DAYTONA BEACH — On the sidewalks, in the hotels, restaurants and grocery stores, the cheerleaders are seemingly everywhere this week at the World’s Most Famous Beach.
Thousands of students on cheerleading teams and dance units representing roughly 140 colleges and universities nationwide are in Daytona Beach to compete in the College Cheer and Dance National Championship sponsored by the National Cheerleaders Association and the National Dance Alliance.
The five-day event runs through Sunday at the Daytona Beach Bandshell and the Ocean Center.
It’s a milestone edition of the long-running competition, which is marking both the 40th anniversary of the event itself and its 25th year in Daytona Beach.
Those occasions would have been celebrated in 2020, but the event was among the gatherings canceled as the coronavirus pandemic put its grip on the nation at this time last year, said Bill Boggs, senior vice president of the National Cheerleaders Association.
“We kind of got delayed by a year,” Boggs said, “but it’s going to be a busy weekend in Daytona Beach.”
3,000 competitors to represent colleges in NCA event
There are about 3,000 competitors in town representing the college teams, Boggs said. They will be accompanied by an additional 2,000-3,000 family members and spectators along to watch them perform, he said.
“Then there’s a high school event that comes in on Sunday that brings another 3,000 participants and a lot of spectators for them, as well,” Boggs said.
The event’s silver anniversary in Daytona Beach will be acknowledged at a presentation at 12:40 p.m. Friday at the Bandshell that will include Volusia County Council member Heather Post and Daytona Beach City Commissioner Quanita May.
Boggs said that the destination has been a perfect fit for the organization, which previously had been holding its national competition in Texas at an earlier time of year, in January.
“It was struggling (at that time) with enrollment,” he said. “It didn’t seem like the time of year was great, so we started looking at moving it to April. Then we saw the Bandshell and the Ocean Center right here by these excellent hotels. We thought the college teams especially would all love to come to the beach in April at the end of season.”
This year’s event has been organized with COVID protocols in mind, Boggs said.
Cheerleading teams will battle at the Bandshell
Cheerleading teams will compete at the Bandshell, with dance squads performing in the Ocean Center’s arena, he said. Attendance will be limited to promote social distancing with audience members grouped into pods that will be allowed to watch specific teams, but then required to exit, he said.
Face masks will be required for spectators and also for competitors when they are not performing, Boggs said. Temperature checks will be required for entry, according to the event website. Tickets, at $10, can be purchased at Eventbrite.com.
Tim Riddle, Ocean Center director, compared the crowd control to running passenger boarding gates at an airport.
“It’s a little different, in terms of the protocols and spectators,” Riddle said. “The competitors enter from one side of the arena and the spectators from another side. The set of spectators that matches that group, we’ll put them on arena floor to watch them and then they will leave out another door. People will not be hanging out in the building as much as the competition is continuing.”
That could be good news for other area businesses, Riddle said.
“The number of teams is virtually where it was and the number of spectators coming to town is the same, the only difference is they won’t all be hanging out at the Ocean Center,” he said. “Everyone will be spread out around town, shopping, enjoying the beach, taking in other leisure activities.”
The return of the competition is welcome news for hotels, restaurants and other businesses that have weathered a tough year without many big events.
“It’s fantastic to have NCA back,” said Jim Berkley, general manager of the 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, the area’s largest hotel, right across the street from the Ocean Center. “They have completely filled our hotel, which is wonderful. It’s a great event, a super bunch of people.”
Likewise, cheerleaders and dancers also are boosting occupancy at the 323-room Plaza Resort & Spa, just north of the convention center on State Road A1A.
“The numbers look really, really strong,” said Duane Winjum, the hotel’s general manager. “We’re sold out through the weekend with them. We’re doing great numbers and we’re very excited to see this event come back this strong.”
The event also is filling tables at the nearby Starlite Diner, said owner Kevin Gelnaw.
“The cheerleaders and their families are really picking us up,” Gelnaw said. “The kids come in for a big breakfast and a big lunch. We’re crushing it right now. We’ve been going on a wait from about 8 in the morning until 1 in the afternoon.”
Daytona Lagoon also is seeing an impact, said Tyler Currie, general manager.
“Anytime they have a cheer event, it really helps us out, especially at night when they are done with the competitions,” Currie said. “The families come over here and play, then go over to watch the cheer teams and then come back. It works really well for us.”