The school’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 –but Pitt was just one of 20 squads that received a bid in the Special Olympics division.
“I think the girls are definitely more confident (this year),” said Michelle Rogers, head coach of the cheerleading squad. “Most of them have cheered together for four years or longer. There is a bond between all those girls…It’s more of a family.”
While they’re used to performing before a crowd, they aren’t quite as experienced in front of thousands of people. “We’re kind of anxious to see how they do at this humongous event,” said Karen Kirchdorfer, director of business development at Pitt Academy. “It’s going to be total chaos. They’ll have groups cheering all over the place and a big audience.”
The team is understandably nervous, but they’re also extremely confident from the amount of preparation they’ve put in throughout the year.
“I’m terrified but excited,” said Emily Ernspiker, a senior cheerleader at Pitt Academy. “You 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 we’re going to do great. We got this!”
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.
“Fundraising was a big deal,” Rogers said about the decision to accept the invitation to nationals. “It was unanimous that the girls definitely wanted to go. We sold entertainment books, we did dress down days at school and sold candy bars. … It’s costly but I definitely think it’s going to be worth it.”
“You have girls with all different disabilities: speech problems, physical limitations, girls with autism,” she said. “With cheering, they get on that floor and it amazes me. You don’t see a disability. I see the girl first. … Our motto is have fun with it. … I don’t want them to use a disability and hide behind that. I’m trying to prepare them for the real world.”
The sport has been especially beneficial to the girls’ 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.
“These are the best group of girls I have ever worked with,” Rogers said. “They work hard, they give 110 percent no matter if they’re tired, and they’re in school all day. I know it’s hard on them and they deal with different disabilities but they come out and give me 110 percent every time.”
Contact writer Ashley Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 502.498.2051.