LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council took time in its agenda Thursday to honor the Lihu‘e Pop Warner Association Junior Midget cheerleaders who, in early December, returned as national champions.
Council members Mel Rapozo and Ross Kagawa co-sponsored a Certificate of Achievement, which was presented to the Lihu‘e Patriots’ JM cheer coaches and nine cheer participants who earned the national honor.
Avery Kano, one of three coaches for the squad, told the council this was the group’s second attempt, the first being two years ago when it ended fourth place in the finals.
“To be fourth in the nation is pretty good,” Council member JoAnn Yukimura said. “But to return as national champions — you put Kaua‘i on the map — wow! You make us all proud.”
Following the playing of the performance video for the council members, Kano said the girls did bobble in the opening, but recovered nicely to near-perfect performance for the remainder of the routine.
“That was the difference from the last trip,” Kano said. “They couldn’t recover after the initial bobble and finished fourth. This time, they recovered nicely and ended as champions.”
Rapozo, who also serves as the Westcon representative for Pop Warner, said when he saw the initial bobble, he thought it was all over, but when the squad was named champions, he said tears came to his eyes.
“This is pretty good from a little town on Kaua‘i,” Rapozo said. “And, they don’t have all day to practice. They’re limited in how long they can practice.”
Tialei Agustin, Torrie Hasegawa, Sandy Haz, Kyra Hirokane, Jordyn Kahananui, Keana Lovell-Obatake, Brooke Palau, Drewan Pigao and Gianna Riopta make up the cheer squad coached by head coach Kristle Nakamura, Kano and Candace La‘amea with Melissa Riopta as business manager.
“We will return next year to defend our title, hopefully successfully,” Nakamura said. “We lose only one girl, who will become a freshman next year. To win by just two points is incredible. It was hard work, practicing the maximum hours allowed. We had some injuries. We lost girls along the way. The girls did very well. I was so nervous, I couldn’t talk before they took the stage, and after their final jump, I couldn’t stop crying.”
The Lihu‘e Patriots JM earned first place in the JM Cheer Level 3 Small Competition in the 2012 Pop Warner Super Bowl and National Cheer and Dance Championships played out Dec. 5 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida.
En route to the championship trophy, the Patriots JM squad edged out the Palm City Dolphins, earning 86.02 points in its performance filled with spirit, precision and athleticism.
In the Kano-choreographed piece, the nine pepsters effectively incorporated Hawai‘i, Lihu‘e and aloha from Hawai‘i into its routine, most people unable to pick up the phrases, which were phonetically correct on YouTube and iPhone videos, but clearly audible in the version presented to the council.
“It was quite a sight,” Rapozo said. “The Hanapepe Colts Junior Peewee cheer squad also did well, finishing eighth in their category, and we will be honoring them in the future.”
This is a testament to hard work and going to the end, Rapozo said.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.