The Pop Warner National Cheer and Dance Championships took place December 7-14, 2013, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Kassandra “Kassie” Montano-Smith, 11, and her team of 15, the Superstition Pop Warner Braves, were among the approximately 300 teams who competed for the championship title.
Montano-Smith is the daughter of Benjalina Smith. She is the oldest of four, with two younger sisters and one brother. She is currently attending Kerr Elementary School in Mesa. Aside from keeping her grades up and making new friends, Montano-Smith is also a member of the Superstition Pop Warner Football and Cheer Program.
Montano-Smith was featured in a previous article in Au-Authm Action News in regard to her athletic achievements as a Pop Warner athlete participating in the Junior Pee Wee II, Exhibition division (PWII). Her goals included qualifying for state, regionals and nationals. She recently accomplished all of these goals and has set new ones for the upcoming cheer season.
With well over 8,400 athletes participating in Pop Warner cheer, the championships get very competitive. Each team has a 2:30 time slot to sweep the judges off their feet with a unique routine. In 2012, Montano-Smith’s team placed first in state and third at regionals. Unfortunately, they did not qualify for nationals that year.
With so many competitors within the Pop Warner program, the United States is divided into eight regions. Within these regions, there are various leagues. To get one step closer to nationals, a cheer squad must place either first, second or third at the league (local) level. Thereafter, regionals are held, and in order to advance, a team must place either first or second. The teams that qualify will make their way to nationals, a trip every cheerleader dreams of.
This was both Montano-Smith’s first plane ride and her first trip to Disney World. “I was nervous [about my plane ride] because the wheels were spinning really fast and the plane was going up and down. It felt like we were going to turn upside down, but we didn’t. We switched planes in Chicago and Minneapolis and it was so cool, it tickled my stomach,” said Montano-Smith. “I want to do it again!”
She recalled her first day in Orlando: “When we got there, we got our luggage, got something to eat and got to go on this tram in the airport,” she continued. “After that we got on the Disney bus, which took us to our hotel. The piano pool at the hotel was so cool.”
Between practicing, study hall and touring the area, Smith and her teammates were also nervous about their competition, which took place on Thursday, December 12. “The competition was cool. We performed once in Florida, but didn’t make the top five. My goal in the upcoming years is to place in the top five at nationals,” added Montano-Smith.
“I’m just proud of her; she made it to Florida. I’m glad she experienced this because it gives her motivation to get higher grades. I told her, ‘You’re representing Salt River and Native Americans,” said mom Benjalina Smith. “They worked hard, the team and the coaches. They practiced three times a week and they all kept it together. It was tough to get her the money to get to Florida. Family helped out, and David Montiel sponsored her with $1,000 towards her trip, which covered the flight, hotel and food, and she was able to have spending money.”
After this experience of a lifetime, Montano-Smith mentioned that some of her long-term goals include cheering for Westwood High School, Arizona State University and the Arizona Cardinals. She has big goals in mind, and this journey is only the beginning.
For more information about Pop Warner Cheer and Dance, visit www.popwarner.com/cheer.