The Paul Laurence Dunbar High School cheerleaders have done it again.
The Lexington squad won the Universal Cheerleaders Association's National Championship last weekend in Orlando, Fla., racking up Dunbar's seventh national cheerleading championship since 1995. Dunbar last won in 2008.
This year, Dunbar faced off against about 30 other schools from around the country in the championship's large varsity division. Teams in that division can have 20 or more members.
"The competition was very tough. But I thought from day one this season that we had a really good chance of winning," said Dunbar's coach, Donna Martin. "We have lots of talent on the team, and lots of desire."
Overall, the Fayette County Public Schools made a strong showing in the competition.
Henry Clay High School finished fourth in large varsity division I, and Morton Middle School was seventh in the large junior high division. Dunbar finished third and Henry Clay seventh in the large junior varsity category.
The cheerleading competition was at Walt Disney World on Saturday and Sunday and was televised on ESPN and ESPN2.
This year's champion Dunbar cheerleading squad has a strong tie going right back to the school's first title 16 years ago.
Nancy Hill, a Dunbar teacher and assistant coach on this year's team, was a member of the Dunbar squad that won in 1995.
Martin, who teaches biology at Dunbar, cheered at Lincoln County High School when she was a student there. She has coached for 21 years.
She said cheering has changed much since her high school days, with much greater emphasis on gymnastics in cheering routines. Today's cheerleaders must be true athletes to compete, she said.
"But it is very regulated today," she said. "Coaches are a lot more qualified and there a lot more safety rules.
"Back in the 1970s, you could do pretty much anything you wanted. But competitions today take place on a mat, versus a hardwood surface. I think it's safer than it's ever been."
The demand for hard work, however, hasn't changed. Martin said the girls must put in 15 to 20 hours a week during the competition season, which runs October through February.
The Dunbar squad will lose six seniors this year. But Martin said she thinks the team has an excellent chance of repeating as national champions next year.
"We expect to be contenders every year," she said.
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.