Destin Marlins place 4th at national cheerleading competition

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

They’ve made it to the big stage before, but this time the Destin Marlins cheer team brought back hardware – the fourth-place trophy from the National High School Cheerleading Championships at the Walt Disney World Resort for a small junior high.

“It was amazing,” said Angela Hayles, Destin Middle School cheer coach. 

Destin Middle School Marlin cheer team placed fourth at the National Cheerleading Championships in Orlando.

There were 1,100 cheer teams competing at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando from 33 states and three countries. Destin competed Feb. 10-12 against 42 other middle schools in the small division and finished fourth in the nation. 

But to get there, the girls worked their way through bracket play. 

“You have to make a certain score to even get to nationals,” Hayles said. 

At the competition, they went through prelims, then moved into semifinals. 

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“Then they put you into one bracket and take the top scores. By the time you do your routine for the third day, you are in the finals … and you’re in the top 10,” Hayles said.

Destin had 15 cheerleaders on the mat doing a 2 ½ minute routine which consisted of jumps, stunts, tumbling and dance along with a cheer.

“The cheer is a crowd leading cheer, and you try and get the crowd involved as much as possible,” Hayles said.

Destin had a good group of parents that made the trek to Orlando and supported the team as well as other teams from the area. 

Choctawhatchee, Crestview and Niceville High School were at the competition as well as Ruckel Middle School and South Walton High. 

The Destin Marlins pose for a photo with other area high schools that competed at the National competition.

“A lot of times, the other Okaloosa schools were there to support you,” Hayles said, which was good. 

Although Hayles is elated at the girls finish, she was impressed they finished one point away from Eastside Middle School, eight-time reigning national champions. 

“That says a lot as to how ready this team was to work together to get to the top,” she said. 

The team puts in 10 to 15 hours of practice a week, working before school and some afternoons as well as cheering at games. 

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“They’ve put in some good work,” Hayles said.  

The Marlins had tryouts in May last year and then went to camp at Florida State University in Tallahassee. 

“I think that’s when I realized the team was pretty special. They performed really well,” Hayles said. 

But the biggest thing was they received the Leadership Award, which is selected by their peers. Cheerleaders vote for the team they would most like to be on outside of their own team.  

“This team has always worked together,” she added. 

The Destin Marlins cheer team includes Emma Ballard, Andreia Barcelos, Crimsynryan Boswell, Emarie Boswell, Allene Brock, Kallie Causton, Kendall Causton, Kendall Chapman, Maddox Cobb, Cadence Garza, Kaylynn Hayles, Kendall Hess, Ainsleigh Hill, Amina Khan, Grae Lankowski, Chloe Lindsey, Lillian McClean, Scarlett McClean, McCrae Middleton, Kellan Rewis, Lily Scalise and Saylor Tolbert. 

“I had eight eighth-graders. They are the magic eight ball. They all had different personalities, but they worked together to make the team the best. They each chose leadership in their own direction to make it a family,” Hayles said. 

Destin cheer coach Angela Hayles poses for a photo with the eighth graders on the team.

For Lillian Mclean, co-captain and eighth-grader, this was her fourth year on the squad. 

“We’ve been every single year,” Mclean said, noting this is the best they’ve ever done. 

“We’ve improved so much this year. Our team bond, made the difference. In the past, we just wanted to win, but this year we went and had fun and it worked out,” Mclean said. 

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However, Mclean said she’s not a fan of competition. 

“I’ve always been nervous competing. I don’t like competing that much, but after my four years of doing it, it has become more fun,” Mclean said. 

And with the leaders on the team not being nervous, it helped to calm the younger ones on the team. 

“I think we just all bonded together super well. Kind of trusted each other to do their part on the mat,” said co-captain Kaylynn Hayles. 

Destin Middle School at the ESPN Wild World of Sports Complex for the National Cheerleading Championships.

The stage at EPSN was much bigger than cheering in the gym at Destin Middle. 

“In the gym when we cheer, it kind of echoes, so it sounds louder. At ESPN it gets a lot quieter … and the lights are very bright in your face … a little bit scarier,” Kaylnn Hayles said. 

Eighth-grader Kallie Causton agreed the bond of the team made a big difference. 

“Everybody was getting along … and just pulling their own weight,” Causton said. “It felt good to trust your teammates.” 

Coach Hayles said, “sometimes fear can get to you," noting the younger ones on the squad didn’t have the experience of being on that big stage. 

“I felt like we kept preaching to them … they are the best, they are the best … to where they mentally believed they were the best. And they had a good group of elder support,” Hayles said. 

Plus, another thing that made this team strong was support from the school and the student body, from the student section at football games to showing up at basketball games. 

“The cheerleaders worked to involve the school, and the school supported them,” she said. 

"This accomplishment comes with a tremendous amount adoration for a group that has an intense level of dedication and work ethic," said Principal Belinda Small.

"Their support network of team members, coaches, parents, and community has helped them rise to this pinnacle. To see them reach recognition at a national level is just awesome because they are just the sweetest team. They cheer on and support everyone, including other Okaloosa County schools in battles for titles. Everyone excelled and we are so proud of every participant," Small said.

As for winning at nationals it was a roller coaster of emotions. 

The fourth place trophy is currently on display in the front office at Destin Middle School.

“I think the girls were brought to tears on their final hit,” Hayles said, noting Destin had never made it past the first round at nationals.

"It was really an emotional moment after we finished the routine because it really just set in, we’re done, that’s it ... the final result of this team working together for a year, and it paid off,” Mclean said. 

“That was really touching, because we’ve dedicated so much time to it. We were just all really happy that it paid off. But it was a sad moment, that it was the end of our team,” Mclean said. 

“It was an exhausting season, but they are special, just athletes, special leaders with special gifts,” Coach Hayles said.