When Betsy Tessler and Dina Haugstatter, along with 10 excited girls from Sherrills Ford Optimist Club, made the trip to Florida last year for the American Youth Football and Cheer national competition, it was clear they were dedicated to cheerleading.
No squad from Sherrills Ford had ever competed on a national level.
When the Mighty Mites returned with a third-place trophy, it was also clear that the trip wouldn't be their last.
"This experience was amazing for our girls," said Tessler. "They fell in love with the idea of returning to Florida again and again."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
But most sports, including traditional cheerleading, require several days each week for practices and games.
The two moms faced a time crunch: How could they continue to offer cheerleading activities, including preparation for national competition, and meet the needs of busy families?
"Most of our girls are involved in many other activities, and it was not looking like they would get the opportunity to make that journey again if we stayed with Sherrills Ford Optimist," said Tessler.
So Tessler, 33, of Sherrills Ford and Haugstatter, 43, of Terrell came up with a solution. Not long after returning from Florida, they began fundraising projects to open a cheer club. They set up a Facebook page. Earlier this summer, they offered cheerleading clinics.
By August, they had partnered with the Universal Cheer Association to offer a three-day camp at the Connor Recreation Center in Terrell, where the Mighty Mites had practiced for national competition.
In September, the Lake Norman Cheer Club will begin its first season.
"We will be more than just cheering," said Tessler. The club will meet one afternoon each week from September to December, and once a month in the off season.
In addition to practicing cheers, the girls will work on tumbling skills and homework. And, of course, they will develop a routine for national competition.
"Just because you join the club, does not mean you have to compete," said Tessler said. "We are here for the kids at this young age before they go off to middle school and high school ... helping them develop cheerleading skills, great friendships and great self-confidence.
"We just want it to be about the kids and what they feel comfortable doing."
The club operates as a nonprofit organization and plans to keep registration costs to a minimum by hosting fundraisers and securing sponsorship.
Their goal is not to compete with the local Optimist Club, but to offer an alternative to families who are pressed for time or whose kids want to continue participation in other sports.
Tessler's daughter, Madison, will play soccer at Sherrills Ford Optimist this fall. Madison was on the national competition cheer squad last year, and she will be in the Cheer Club, too. Soccer games are typically played on Saturdays, so the two activities won't conflict.
In July, a fire destroyed the main building at the Sherrills Ford Optimist Club. The Lake Norman Cheer Club gave part of the proceeds from its August fundraiser to help rebuild the facility.
The girls are also supporting a campaign for St. Jude Children's Hospital.
"I still feel very connected to the Park and community," said Tessler. "We are trying to promote to our girls that there is a lot out there for us to do, and we can do it through cheer."