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Eden Prairie High School wins national pom competition

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The Eden Prairie High School Pom Squad is back from a national championship competition in Florida – with its eighth championship trophy in the last two decades.

The 16-member team placed first in the small-team pom category, and third in the jazz category, at the 2014 National Dance Team Championship last weekend at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. The event is the largest dance team championship in the nation, which draws 10,000 spectators and will be broadcast on ESPN 2 later this spring.

Eden Prairie's winning two-minute routine featured a mix of songs that included "We Will Rock You" and "Boogie Shoes."

"We try to create a lot of visual fireworks," coach Anna Itman told BringMeTheNews. Check out it:

Eden Prairie was the only Minnesota school at the competition. The team ultimately bested a long-time friendly rival from Lafayette, Louisiana, in the small-team pom category, Itman said.

"It was quite a thrilling moment," she said. "We talk a lot about how we work so hard for the feeling that we get when we come off the floor, and a win is just icing on the cake."

Practice for the dancers starts in June, and the athletes undergo rigorous training that includes a combination of ballet, yoga, circuit training – and a lot of dance repetitions, Itman said.

Itman, 35, was a senior on the 1996 Eden Prairie pom squad, which also won a national championship. "It's been a huge part of my life for a long time."

The Eden Prairie win follows two national title wins by the University of Minnesota Spirit squads last month in Orlando.

Parents and coaches of students on dance and pom teams say their athletes are often overlooked, especially by the media.

But more high school girls participate in dance (which differs from pom in style and requirements) than any other sport, and it is second only to football for sports participation in Minnesota, Michelle Rotter, a metro-area dance team booster, wrote in a letter to the Star Tribune this week. She says the sport is extremely challenging – testing athletes' strength, stamina, flexibility and balance, and builds their self-confidence.

Dance is one of the best sports for spectators, who get a show – and it's highly competitive, Rotter notes. "Our girls work hard, and they deserve respect for being the athletes that they are," she writes.

Rotter notes that the state dance team tournament will be held at Target Center on Feb. 14 and 15.

The Eden Prairie Pom Squad:

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