AYER -- Tears were spilled on the mats by Ayer-Shirley cheerleaders and coaches inside the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida., the site of the American Youth Cheering National Competition earlier this month.

No, they were not tears of sadness -- they were those of joy and jubilation. The Ayer-Shirley Broncos Division 12 cheerleading squad did something that has never been done in program history -- they went to nationals and placed third.

"Since day one, I have been so impressed by this group," head coach Katie Doe said. "They have this ability to focus themselves so well. We threw changes at them in the parking lot hours before competition, and they went out there and executed. That shows to me their dedication. It was important for us to see them happy and being rewarded for doing so well, consistently."

As the Broncos strutted off the floor behind the curtain at the back of the mat after nailing their routine, the coaches were overcome with a gauntlet of emotions. Tears, smiles and laughter just to name a few.

"When they walked off the floor, us coaches were crying because we were just so proud," she said. "This is a dream come true for them and us. My coaching staff and I have never gone to nationals either as cheerleaders. For us, it was a big deal, too. They did what we all wanted to do. Even the student demonstrators said this is something they wanted to do when they were cheerleaders. It was that moment of the girls living the dream that all of us coaches as cheerleaders never got the chance to."

The Broncos galloped through the Central Mass. Districts competition with a first-place finish in Lowell at the end of October. Next up was the New England Regionals in Hartford, Conn., and yet again, the young ladies from Ayer-Shirley rose to the occasion, placing first and locking up their trip to sunny Florida.

After punching their ticket in November to nationals, the Broncos wasted no time pounding the pavement searching for sponsorship from local businesses to help fund their expensive trip. Not going was not an option.

American Youth Cheerleading penalizes both the football and cheerleading divisions from postseason play if one of the town's members fails to meet its financial responsibility.

If you took a trip around the Ayer rotary, you might have seen the young ladies clad in their purple and white cheerleading uniforms asking ever so nicely for any spare change. The girls received endless support from Pinard's Garden Center and Florist Shop of Ayer and many other local businesses in the surrounding towns of Ayer, Shirley, Devens and Harvard. Altogether, the girls raised between $7,000-8,000, which was enough to send the girls down to Florida. Two weeks ago, the Broncos, along with parents, coaches and supporters, drove down to Kissimmee, Fla.

"They did so well," the coach said of the girls on the ride down south. "I have never met a more respectful group of girls in one place. Everyone was impressed by them. It wasn't like our other competitions, where we were coming out where the hockey players came out. They came out from behind a curtain. It wasn't a competition, it was like they were putting on a show."

The Broncos made friends with a team from Arizona, who coincidently were named the Broncos.

The Arizona Broncos brought the Ayer-Shirley girls candies and wished them all good luck. According to Doe, there was no intimidation from the other teams -- everyone was happy to just be there in the moment.

"To go to nationals was huge, but to place was bigger," Doe said. "It was a big deal. I don't think they have come down off the adrenaline rush of placing. The competition was bigger than the girls had ever expected. I had one girl look, and when she turned around at one point -- she saw herself on a big screen -- it was that larger than life spot, where they realized 'oh my gosh, this is really happening."