LONG BEACH - Last year, the Wilson High School cheerleading squad was in need of a little pep.
The team had a string of coaches - three within a year - and in April, hours before tryouts for the 2012-2013 school year, the latest coach was fired and the program was nearly canceled.
"It was a major disappointment because we didn't know if there was gonna be cheerleading next year," said senior Taylor Mastroluca, who's now the team captain.
But now, thanks to a new coach and a recent top title win, the team has a renewed school spirit.
On Friday, the varsity team of 17 girls won first place in its division at the JAMZ All-Stars National Cheerleading Competition at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The group beat out six other teams in its division, including Long Beach's St. Anthony High.
"We have a great group of girls this year, and they've worked really hard, so this was a huge morale boost for them," said Coach Brooke Birdsall.
Birdsall, a former Wilson cheerleader who graduated in 2007, joined the team as coach in May after hearing the program was in danger of being canceled.
Birdsall said the team has practiced hard this year with the goal of entering more competitions.
"I want them to know that cheerleading is just as important as any other sports team," she said.
The squad in September launched a fundraiser to attend ESPN's National Cheerleading Competition in Florida. Though they didn't raise the $18,000 needed to compete in Florida, they were able to compete in Las Vegas and won their title despite a soggy setback.
The night before the competition, some of the girls' hotel rooms flooded, leaving several members to compete in wet uniforms without much sleep.
"Most of the girls only got about two hours of sleep and they still performed perfectly," Birdsall said.
Birdsall, who also works as a nanny and preschool teacher's aide, plans to stay on as Wilson cheer coach for another year. Birdsall said next year she'll train an assistant coach, another former Wilson cheerleader, who can eventually take her place and continue a new legacy of Wilson cheerleading spirit.
"It has been a long time since anyone has seen the girls this proud of themselves," she said. "One of their goals at the beginning of this year was to say they were proud to be a Wilson cheerleader, and I think this weekend they accomplished that."