CEDAR RAPIDS — Their schoolmates were out on holiday break, but the members of the Jefferson High School cheerleading team were in the school’s gym Monday afternoon, practicing their kicks, pivots and dance moves.
The 14 girls on the cheer squad were getting ready for a 21-hour bus ride to Orlando, Fla., to perform in the halftime show at the Camping World Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 28, featuring Notre Dame vs. Iowa State.
WorldStrides, a student travel program, coordinates the student participation in the halftime show, bringing together cheer squads from several schools, plus bands. Each cheer squad learns the same routine to perform together in front of the stadium crowd.
This will be senior Claire Vlcko’s second time performing at a bowl game halftime show. She’s been on the Jefferson cheer team since she was a freshman.
“I just always wanted to be a cheerleader, and to have that experience of being in front of the crowd while you cheer on your team,” she said. “The last bowl game was so fun, just cheering in front of that whole crowd. I was extremely scared, but it went by so fast.”
Coach Sherren Huston said Jefferson cheerleaders have participated in five bowl games since 2012, when they performed in the Liberty Bowl, which also featured the Iowa State Cyclones. Huston has been coaching cheerleading for 24 years. Her daughter Cathy Huston is the assistant coach.
The school district says the team can take a trip every other year, Sherren Huston said. In the past, they went to cheer competitions, but those often conflict with cheering at wrestling matches.
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“We had to find something else, and this found us,” Huston said. “Once we went the first time, they liked our work ethic.”
WorldStrides sends the team the choreography, which the girls learn on top of the routines and cheers they perform at Jefferson sporting events.
“Once the winter sports season starts, we have to practice after games, so at like 9 p.m.,” Huston said. “It’s a time commitment.”
“Cheering is a lot harder than people think. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of late nights,” she said. “I’m excited to dance in front of all those people again.”
Huston said she enjoys watching the team work hard and improve. The bowl game offers a unique experience they don’t get during the regular season.
“It’s just a great experience for the girls. They learn a lot by working with other groups and with the choreographer,” Huston said. “And I love the sense of pride they get ... You’d think they’d be so scared, but they love it.”
This year the team is all girls, though they’ve had boys in the past. Now retired from teaching, she previously taught Spanish in middle school and other topics over more than two decades teaching middle school.
“When I have a girl for four years, it’s interesting to see how they grow and change,” Huston said. “The ones who are really committed — it’s fun to watch them.”
The game will air on ABC at 11 a.m. Dec. 28.
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