This school year has been fraught with challenges for students, teachers and parents alike.

And athletes, like Harlie Fuqua’s Hendersonville High School cheerleaders, have had their own unique set of challenges. From contact tracing and rule changes related to COVID-19, this season has been anything but normal.

“Since 2010, this was by far, hands-down the most challenging season,” said Fuqua, a former cheerleader who is now the team’s head coach.

The season seemed to only get worse when the team cancelled its annual trip to Disney World where they have competed in the UCA National High School Cheerleading competition every February since 2007.

“I do think initially they were disappointed,” Fuqua said of the decision to forgo the trip and instead compete virtually. “But it all worked out for the better. It’s just awesome how it all happened.”

The team, comprised of 13 females and one male, sent in its first-round video on April 7, and advanced to the final round on April 15. On April 23, they gathered with their families at the home of a teammate to watch the final results on Varsity TV.

“When they announced the first runner-up and it wasn’t us, the room just erupted,” mused Fuqua. “We all went nuts crying. It was just a huge team family effort.”

The team was named UCA National Champions in the Small Varsity Non-tumble Game Day division – a first for the school and a first for any Sumner County cheerleading squad.

The Game Day division was the largest division for both virtual and in-person competition with 22 teams vying from states like California, New York and Minnesota. The team had to qualify at the state or regional level in order to get a bid for the competition, according to Fuqua. They also had to get credentialed over the summer.

Receiving a bid wasn’t a problem for the Commandos since the squad was also named TSSAA State Champions and TN Regional Champions in the Game Day competition, making it an undefeated season for their Game Day routine.

For their efforts, the team earned gold medals, white national jackets and a banner for becoming Game Day National Champions. The team also competed in the Small Varsity traditional division and placed in the top five.

Competing virtually versus in-person had its challenges, the coach noted.

However, while friends and family weren’t allowed to watch the team perform at the state level, they were allowed an audience for the national competition.

“What was hard was trying to convey that genuine excitement that you have at a competition,” she said. “They worked hard to get that, and having some family and friends there helped, I think. The judges told us, ‘we can see the traditions of your school – we can see the excitement.’”

She says she’s impressed by the whole team’s perseverance and hard work.

“Nine out of 14 team members competed for the first time in the Game Day division,” she said. “To see this group finally achieve what we’ve never been able to do – the way they pushed through. It was a much-deserved win – it was a win really for all of us.”

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