My Time in Florida

One nice thing about returning from travel to the east coast is that you gain time. I definitely enjoyed arriving in Missoula at 12:30 p.m. today with the ability to enjoy the whole Martin Luther King Jr. afternoon. I marvel at air travel. Call me nerdy but I think it is pretty neat that I was on the opposite side of the country in the most southeastern state this morning only to make it back to Montana by lunchtime.

But man what a digression! My time in Orlando concluded today after three full days in the Sunshine state. As I alluded to in my previous blog post, I was traveling on a business related matter. Although this time it was not to perform advance travel, attend a game, or to host a retreat. Rather, it was to allow the most visible icon at The University of Montana to take part in his own competition.

Our mascot, Monte, was selected to compete in the College Cheerleading and Dance National Championships. Yes, I understand the name of the competition excludes our furry friends but trust me, they are included. Presented by the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA), the College Cheerleading and Dance National Championships bring together the best cheer, dance, and mascot programs from around the country to compete for three days at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disneyworld. For me it is always a thrill to see the top schools in the nation gather in one place, especially representatives from the schools who I see performing every Saturday during the fall.

 

We competed at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.

We competed at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.

For the mascot competition, each performer had to perform a minute and a half skit. Among the mascots competing were Brutus Buckeye (Ohio State), Sparty (Michigan State), Goldy Gopher (Minnesota), Mike the Tiger (LSU), Aubie (Auburn), Smokey (Tennessee), Bucky the Badger (Wisconsin), and many more. It is pretty cool to see the students outside of the suits who play these high profile mascots and see the teams that they haul with them to the competition to help them out. On the night that the mascot competition took place, thousands of cheerleaders, dance members, and general spectators jammed the HP Field House to watch the mascots perform their skits. When you have a packed house of cheerleaders and dancers, you know the atmosphere is going to be pretty crazy and loud. Many of the skits performed were out of this world and I felt very fortunate to watch everything from the floor. Monte finished fourth in his division and took home a big trophy.

Monte performing his skit inside the HP Field House.

Monte performing his skit inside the HP Field House.

Monte and I after the competition.

Monte and I after the competition.

While in Orlando we also got to see the sights. A perk of making it to the championships is that there are many opportunities to enjoy the happiest place on earth. As part of the travel package for the championships, we got a three day park hopper pass that gained us admission into all the Disney parks. Because we stayed at the Disney All-Star Music Resort, we had bus access to all the parks, making transportation very easy. I got to experience Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and, on the final night, Disney totally shut down Hollywood Studios and hosted a “block party” for all cheer and dance championship participants. All of the major rides were open for us to go on as many times as we pleased. By far, my favorite park was Epcot. For those of you who don’t know, Epcot is a park that pays homage to the various cultures of the world. In the park, 11 countries have space where you can experience their culture with everything from food to drink to music to entertainment to souvenirs. I also enjoyed the Coca-Cola shop at the park that allowed you to sample various different sodas from around the world free of charge. There was just something very harmonious and special about Epcot that made me especially enjoy it.

 

Myself at Epcot

Myself at Epcot

While touring the parks, swimming in the pools, soaking in the nice weather, and of course competing in a first class national competition was all a lot of fun, there was something that I enjoyed most of all. As many of you know, I am a people person and over the past few days in Orlando I got to interact with all kinds! Myself and the two students who play the role of Monte had such a good time chatting with all the other schools and squads that attended the championships. What made everything so intriguing and fun is that they came from all over the country. They all had their own accents, own personalities, and own little cultures. But you know what they all shared? A genuine sense of humbleness. It didn’t matter if we were talking to the LSU cheer squad or the Harvard dance team, they were all just really nice. The stuck up cheerleading stereotype is so inaccurate. I found this out by working with our own fabulous squad at UM that the stereotype holds no weight and this past weekend it was just confirmed even more. Besides fellow competitors we just met a bunch of other nice people who were happy to be on vacation and who wanted to know our story. I felt very blessed to meet so many cool people.

Myself at Animal Kingdom

Myself at Animal Kingdom

While Orlando was fun, I am glad to be back in Missoula. I got a huge week coming up and I think my stay on the other side of the country has got me rejuvenated and ready for a successful several days. Thank you so much to my Montes who do such a great job! I had a wonderful time with you in Florida. Don’t Blink.