After more than 45 days of collecting votes and parading their school spirit, the Mainland Regional High School Mustangs won the Under Armour "Finding Undeniable" contest and serious bragging rights.

"It's unbelievable," Principal Mark Marrone said following the announcement Thursday during halftime of the Under Armour All-American Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Mainland Regional High School cannot be denied."

Marrone was one of at least 125 people who packed into Charlie's Bar & Restaurant in Somers Point to learn Mainland's fate.

The nationwide school spirit competition - sponsored by the Baltimore-based athletic apparel company - was highlighted by each competing school's student body rallying together and earning points for participating in various challenges.

As the winning school, Mainland earned $140,000 in athletic gear from Under Armour over a two-year period.

For Under Armour officials, the competition was a search for the school with the most "heart, determination, commitment and top-notch prowess on and off the field."

Getting "shout outs" from professional athletes through Twitter, performing chants and routines and uploading pictures of the school mascot were all part of the game.

When the announcement was made on ESPN, Charlie's practically erupted with a wave of cheers. However, the moment was also a solemn one as many people in attendance began crying and hugging one another.

Thursday's victory, and subsequent tears, was a visible reminder of a community that still grieves over the death of four of the school's football players who died in a car crash last August.

"This is one of the ties that binds us after the unfortunate incident of this summer," Marrone said before the announcement was made.

Mike Gatley, athletic director at the high school, said those in Florida for the announcement spent the third and fourth quarters of the football game absorbing the shock of winning.

"It was really something special for the kids," Gatley said from Florida.

Gatley said he understood why there was "a lot of emotion that came out (Thursday)."

"I felt it was divine intervention," he said of the challenge coming along less than a month after the school's community was rocked by the death of Edgar Bozzi, 17, of Somers Point; Casey Brenner, 17, of Northfield; Nicholas Conner, 16, of Northfield; and Dean Khoury, 15, of Linwood.

According to Gatley, the school will be assigned an Under Armour representative who will help design new uniforms for every sports team in the regional school that serves Linwood, Northfield and Somers Point.

"(Today's) going to be quite a day at Mainland," he said, adding there would be a pep rally at the school.

If the student body's spirit was not evident enough from their dedication to win the contest, Charlie's atmosphere and the sea of green and white painted a clear picture.

The other finalists were the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., and First Presbyterian Christian Academy in Hinesville, Ga.

Contact Caitlin Dineen:

609-272-7247

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