The Key West competitive cheer squad pauses for a team photo at the FHSAA State Championships. CONTRIBUTED

Key West’s competitive cheer squad had an uphill battle at the FHSAA 1A State Championships in Lakeland last weekend. The Conchs scored high enough at regionals to earn a coveted at-large bid to states. But a spot on the mats was just the first step. 

In total, 22 teams competed in the Small Non-Tumbling division. Four of those teams, the champions from each of the four FHSAA regions, received an automatic place in the finals, leaving just six more places for the rest of the pack for a chance at state gold. Key West managed to secure one of those spots with a preliminary round score of 75.7. 

Since regionals, coach Ariana Corsi and her squad worked on every detail to perfect their routine, add difficulty to their stunting and make the minute adjustments that add up over the course of a routine. That work paid off on the afternoon of Feb. 3, when the Conchs hit their stunts and wowed the crowd to an even higher 81.1 score in the final round of competition, securing 7th place for the team. The bid to states was a fantastic finish to their season which was cut short last year with a narrow miss to the big show. 

Tracy McDonald fled to the Keys from the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania hours after graduating from college and never looked back. She is a second generation coach and educator, and has taught in the public school system for over 25 years. She and her husband met at a beginning teacher meeting in 1997 and have three children born and raised in Monroe County. In her free time, McDonald loves flea markets, historical fiction and long runs in the heat.