A group of cheerleaders at American Fork High School is getting a lot of attention after winning an award at a national competition.

The 12 girls, all seniors this year, won third place at the National High School Dance Team Championships in Orlando, Fla., last month.Pam Beckstrand, faculty adviser, said the girls got a lot of respect from their peers at the competition, and the experience gave American Fork's cheerleaders lots of self-confidence.

"It's just the feeling of knowing that back there (in Florida) you are a big deal," Beckstrand said. "It's the chance of a lifetime."

The girls agree completely. They came within 1.2 points of winning the competition, but their classmates treated them like champions just the same when they arrived home.

"Just the fact that we could accomplish something like that was wonderful," said cheerleader Kim Warnick. "After all the work we did, the competition was the highlight. Everyone there knew little old Utah. We've never felt so united with the student body as when we walked off that plane."

The girls got help from their classmates when they needed money for the trip, too. The cost of the five-day excursion was $500 a girl, but they found some unique ways to raise the funds, and that's where some of the best-looking guys on campus stepped in.

The cheerleaders took pictures of several of these choice men and made a calendar of them. It was snapped up by interested students.

Money was an obstacle, but the greater chore was preparing for the competition. The girls had to qualify by winning in a superior category at a state camp last year. With that accomplished, they practiced nine extra hours a week, in addition to their normal cheerleading work, for eight months.

The girls went into the competition believing they had a chance to win first place, but just 15 minutes before their performance, they were told to eliminate a move from their routine that officials thought was too much like a pyramid, which is prohibited.

They worked frantically to re-choreograph their dance and finished just in time to face an audience and perform it for the first time.

The competition will be shown on ESPN April 23 and 26 at noon, and you can bet 12 enthusiastic cheerleaders will be transfixed in front of their television sets. The group includes, Jeana Adamson, Lari Dubois, Aurelie Brown, Kristi Fox, Desi Watkins, Kim Warnick, Tracy Knight, Heather Villarreal, Candida Wilson, Angi Terry, Joelle Jacob and Stefanie Fish.