ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
While many people will be celebrating the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday with their families, a group of lucky young ladies will be spending the holiday in sunny Orlando.
A group of Liberal High School cheerleaders will perform with the Varsity Spirit All-Americans in a performance through Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park during Thanksgiving week. Besides enjoying the trip to Orlando, the All-Americans will have the chance to meet other cheerleaders and dancers from the U.S. and enjoy the holiday at Walt Disney World parks. The LHS All-Americans are Diana Farrar, Emma Evans, Abbie Dowell, Lexi Franz, and the All-American nominees are Kassie Wade, Brooke Nelson, and Xytlali Gutierrez.
“For me, I think it's pretty amazing because we're from Liberal, which is somewhere not many people can on a map, so getting the opportunity to cheer and then getting the opportunity to try out for that team, and having our work recognized, that's really amazing,” Farrar said. “Being able to go to the Happiest Place On Earth and cheering there and doing what we love, that's also really cool.”
“And for the seniors, this is the last BIG thing we get to do as far as traveling and things like that,” Dowell added. “We've still got basketball season coming up, which we're getting ready for, but this is our last BIG trip with everyone, and I think it'll just be really great. We'll be flying out Monday, and the first thing we'll do as a big group is a group practice Tuesday night, and then the big group is split into two performances between Wednesday and Thursday, and that's when we'll be doing all the performance stuff.”
The cheerleaders and dances invited to perform are part of a select group of chosen during Varsity Spirit summer camps that take place across the U.S. The All-Americans are selected via tryout based on either superior cheerleading or dance skills at camps operated by Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA), Universal Dance Association (UDA), National Cheerleaders Association (NCA), National Dance Alliance (NDA), or Urban Cheerleading Experience (UCE). Only the top 10 percent of the cheerleaders and dancers from Varsity Spirit camps earn the chance to take part, according to Dowell.
“There are more than 500 cheerleaders who will be participating, and that's a combination of high schools and middle schools, and it's a combination of cheer and dance performing. Less than 10 percent of the summer camps, throughout the summer, the UCA and NDA go around and look at camps, and it's only a few who get to perform with the All-American group,” Dowell said.
“All of us were really excited when we officially got invited, it's a great opportunity we couldn't pass up,” Franz said. “I think it's amazing how we're going to Orlando and cheering at Disney in the Thanksgiving parade, that's not an opportunity many people get, and there are a lot of people who watch that parade on TV. We'll be in the Happiest Place On Earth and showing off our talent, which is just amazing. The performance is typically around midday, so that morning, we'll get to wander around the park and have some time to ourselves, but there is a certain time we'll have to report based on our performance order, and we'll also get to see all the preparation and all the Disney characters, so we'll get to be part of the behind-the-scenes stuff AND the parade performance. Then after everything's finished, we'll be able to go around Magic Kingdom for the rest of the day.”
Farrar and Evans also talked about the preparation that has been going on.
“We’ve been doing a lot of fundraisers and advertising for those fundraisers at different events,” Farrar said. “We're also about to have our cheer clinic we'll be performing at the Christmas parade in December, which we're also really excited about.”
“Something that's helped us prepare has been also preparing for the State cheer competition in Topeka, and that's helped us make sure everything's tight and smooth, and it's helped us gel as a team, and that will show when we're all in the Thanksgiving parade at Disney,” Evans added.
Preparing for both the Disney trip and State has definitely kept the squad busy, Gutierrez agreed.
“When we started preparing for State, we'd written down a bunch of team goals we'd wanted to accomplish, and with all the extra work we've had to do for both State and this trip, it's definitely made us work harder and better, and it's made us bond a lot more,” Gutierrez said. “We're really excited to show everyone we can do, and we've all definitely grown as we've worked with all of this.”
Being from a smaller community like Liberal, Evans and Gutierrez said going in front of such a big audience is quite amazing.
“This will help show people it's not just the big cities that have good cheerleading programs, great cheer and dance programs can also be found in smaller communities like ours, so this will give us the chance to show off how good we are,” Gutierrez said. “We've worked really hard to get here.”
“I feel like this will also show off our school in general and show off what we can do and how talented we are,” Evans said. “It's also an opportunity to show to the people who say 'Cheerleading isn't a sport' that yes, cheer IS a sport, and it takes just as much work and talent as any other athletic event. It's a step up for us and it'll really let us shine.”
Dowell also encouraged people to continue showing support for the squad.
“It'd be great to have people watch and it's a great way to promote Liberal and show people what we've been able to achieve with everyone's support,” Dowell said.
“I would encourage people to come to the basketball games and be in the Big House cheering for everyone, because we feed off the energy of the crowd just as much as they do from us, I think,” Farrar added.