The schoolâ€™s Special Olympics Cheerleading squad will compete at Cheersport Nationals in Atlanta, Ga. Friday through Sunday, Feb. 17-19.
More than 950 cheerleading teams across the U.S. were invited to the event â€“but Pitt was just one of 20 squads that received a bid in the Special Olympics division.
â€œI think the girls are definitely more confident (this year),â€ said Michelle Rogers, head coach of the cheerleading squad. â€œMost of them have cheered together for four years or longer. There is a bond between all those girls…Itâ€™s more of a family.â€
While theyâ€™re used to performing before a crowd, they arenâ€™t quite as experienced in front of thousands of people. â€œWeâ€™re kind of anxious to see how they do at this humongous event,â€ said Karen Kirchdorfer, director of business development at Pitt Academy. â€œItâ€™s going to be total chaos. Theyâ€™ll have groups cheering all over the place and a big audience.â€
The team is understandably nervous, but theyâ€™re also extremely confident from the amount of preparation theyâ€™ve put in throughout the year.
â€œIâ€™m terrified but excited,â€ said Emily Ernspiker, a senior cheerleader at Pitt Academy. â€œYou have to learn to get over being nervous and do what you did in practice. I know we have all worked really hard to get here and weâ€™re going to do great. We got this!â€
In addition to practice, the girls have had to work hard to raise money for the trip, which will cost each member about $300 for the hotel stay, alone.
â€œFundraising was a big deal,â€ Rogers said about the decision to accept the invitation to nationals. â€œIt was unanimous that the girls definitely wanted to go. We sold entertainment books, we did dress down days at school and sold candy bars. … Itâ€™s costly but I definitely think itâ€™s going to be worth it.â€
â€œYou have girls with all different disabilities: speech problems, physical limitations, girls with autism,â€ she said. â€œWith cheering, they get on that floor and it amazes me. You donâ€™t see a disability. I see the girl first. â€¦ Our motto is have fun with it. … I donâ€™t want them to use a disability and hide behind that. Iâ€™m trying to prepare them for the real world.â€
The sport has been especially beneficial to the girlsâ€™ socializing skills. It has also given Rogers the chance to work with her daughter, Whitney, who cheered at Atherton and is assistant coach at Pitt.
In fact, Rogers became ill a few weeks leading up to the competition, and it was Whitney who stepped in to get the team ready for their big weekend.
â€œThese are the best group of girls I have ever worked with,â€ Rogers said. â€œThey work hard, they give 110 percent no matter if theyâ€™re tired, and theyâ€™re in school all day. I know itâ€™s hard on them and they deal with different disabilities but they come out and give me 110 percent every time.â€
Contact writer Ashley Anderson at email@example.com or at 502.498.2051.