The past few weeks have produced some exciting news for Polk County sports fans.

We’ve learned Kathleen High School’s own Ray Lewis was named as one of the newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; the women’s basketball team at Southeastern University was recently ranked No. 1 in the NAIA poll, the first time any Southeastern team in any sport has achieved such an honor; Florida Southern College women’s volleyball coach Jill Stephens announced her retirement after 23 years, one month after leading the Moccasins to their first-ever NCAA Division II national championship match, where they came up just short; and Tigertown is starting to buzz as the Detroit Tigers open spring training.

But we want to take a moment to recognize some local athletes whose prowess may not always capture the public’s attention.

Earlier this month in Gainesville the varsity cheerleading squad from Bartow High School captured its fifth consecutive state championship, and sixth state crown overall. The team subsequently lost out on a national championship last weekend, finishing as the runner-up to Graves County High School from Kentucky in the Universal Cheerleading Association finals.

But the Yellow Jackets immediately rebounded to win the UCA world championship in the Large Coed division — the first time the school has taken that title.

So to recount, Bartow has taken six state titles, two national championships and now a world championship — surely landing Bartow head coach Lori Joliff in the elite coaching neighborhood within Florida’s prep sports.

And to demonstrate that Bartow has no plans to slow down, its junior varsity cheerleaders, coached by Kelly Lane and Shima Haditour, won the school’s first-ever national championship in that category.

Our culture is such that we don’t tend to think of cheerleaders as athletes, but merely as window dressing for the “real” players on the field or court.

But make no mistake. Observing just a few minutes of the grace, coordination, athleticism and sometimes fearlessness of contemporary cheerleaders will disabuse people of such thinking. It’s also dangerous at times. In 2013 The Washington Post reported that more than half of “catastrophic” injuries to female athletes — including skull fractures, wrecked spines, paralysis and even death — were attributable to cheerleading.

Not to be dour, though, cheerleading can build character, instill a drive to succeed and open some of the academic doors as other sports. After all, we’ve had four U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who were once cheerleaders. And in some circumstances, cheerleading can be a path to a college education. The University of Central Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas Tech are just some of the schools that offer cheerleaders full or partial scholarships.

We want to applaud Coach Joliff and her staff for developing and instilling a standard of competitive and athletic excellence that is hard to match in any sport, either here in Polk County or around our state. These students may not secure the glory or the riches of a Ray Lewis, for example, but they have competed and succeeded at the highest levels of their particular endeavors, and so it’s easy to believe they will be well prepared for life after being molded by these experiences.