St. Mary's County cheerleaders named best in the nation

Leonardtown, MD- The Cougar Elite Cheerleading Squad—the CEC Pride--from right here in St. Mary’s County capped off another exciting year after being named the best in the nation—again. What’s even more impressive—these talented young ladies are just eight to 11 years old.

In May, the team competed in the US Finals in Virginia Beach. CEC Pride clinched the top spot in the Youth 1 Performance Recreation division—for the second year in a row. That win advanced them to the Champion’s Challenge where they won the title of US Finals Grand Champion.

On Tuesday, June 19, the team received a proclamation from the St. Mary’s County Commissioners on their impressive performance and dedication to their team.

These all-star cheerleaders practice five hours a week, spend many weekends traveling and competing, all the while maintaining good grades and high academic standards. But they can’t do it alone. The entire cheer program, which operates through St. Mary’s County Recreation and Parks, is run by volunteers. This is the ninth year for the cheer program, which consists of nearly 80 athletes and eight coaches—and the families of all of the athletes.

Maya Velez, director of Cougars Elite Cheerleading, said it wasn’t an easy road to get to the finals. “It’s a very young team and it wasn’t the best year but they were determined and pushed through the ups and downs to go all the way to the top.”
Velez said the cheer program offers members a competitive cheer experience at a recreational price—due in large part to the support of the volunteers. “All-star cheerleading can cost parents thousands of dollars. Because of our volunteer staff, it costs parents just $1,600 a year.” The program runs 11 months out of the year.

Head coach, Jen Rodriquez, spoke with after receiving the proclamation from the commissioners. “This team came together and really worked together. It’s not an individual sport at all-- if you don’t work together you’re not going to be successful. These girls had some disappoints and they came together and supported one another.”

The dedicated coaches are in the gym four nights a week working with the girls. When they’re not in the gym, many of them are at home tweaking their routines. “I would like to offer a huge thank you to the coaches and the community. The organization really comes together to help one another.” Rodriquez said.

In addition to learning their routines, the girls are also learning valuable life skills like teamwork and sportsmanship, Rodriquez explained. “Many of the girls don’t know each other at the beginning of the season. There are several schools and grade levels represented. After spending so much time together they become really close friends.”

Abigail McDonald, who will be heading to Esperanza Middle School in the fall, just finished her third season with the team. She said she loves the tumbling but the thrill of competing is what drives her. “I like all of the excitement.” In a collective interview with the rest of the team, their enthusiasm was infectious. “I like tumbling the best—cartwheels, back walkovers, front walkovers. We like traveling and the friendships.” For the moms (and dads), they also enjoy traveling and overnight trips. One mom joked, “I like the trips to the beach.”

Many of the girls have been cheerleading since they were little and they’re looking forward to the next season. “We want to win again!”

Congratulations to CEC Pride!

Contact Joy Shrum at

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