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Portage cheer squads represent at nationals

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on December 15, 2010 with No Comments

By Mike Siroky

There probably is nothing nicer than escaping the wintry weather of the past week by going to Disneyworld in Orlando.

And, if you have an excused absence from school, all the better.

Best yet, though, is to earn such a break by winning the competition in your preferred sport and advancing to the nationals.

Such is the case for two cheerleading squads associated with Portage Pop Warner. The Midget team placed first in their Regional and the Pee Wee teams second, each punching their own tickets for the Pop Warner National Cheer & Dance Championships.

The Midgets are coached by Michelle Sparks, assisted by Shannon McBride, Kelly Bowman, Patti Copeland and Brittney Karakozis.

All the assistant coaches have a performer on the team.

ìMy daughter joined, so I started coaching,î Copeland said, adding that head coaches are responsible for the choreography. ìBut each coach does something different.î

Suddenly, the elimination competitions arrived.

The district competition was held in Valparaiso in October. The Midgets would place first and advance to the November regional championships in DeKalb, Ill. The team won that competition as well, earning them a spot at the national championships.

The top three teams there win medals, with the champ also taking home a trophy.

Portage once again placed second in the nation in the Midget small intermediate division. The girls all brought home medals for the second straight season. They were edged out of first by 1.42 points.

In the same division, Hobart was 13th. In the novice competition of the division, LaPorte placed 10th.

ìWe placed third last year and the medals were great,î she said. ìIt helps to have been there. All the girls said ëabsolutelyí when it came time to start practices again.î

The younger Portage team placed 15th in the nation. Michigan City took third place in the intermediate small division of the Midgets.

The age range for the midgets is 12-15, and like most athletic teams, they practice, practice, practice. There are national camps to attend and the team gathers financial support with candy sales and other fundraisers.

They attend every game all season for the football teams with which they are associated, and they march in parades.

The team bond is strong despite the fact that the girls come from all the Portage schools. The families find themselves just as connected with most families reserving time and travel for the Florida experience.

With each girl being responsible for her own expenses, estimated at up to $900 for the basics of the trip, Copeland said the girlsí parents really help with fundraising.

ìThe parents coordinate with phone calls,î said Copeland. ìWhatever needs to be done gets done.î

The actual performances last 2 1/2 minutes.

The parents also line up the car caravans, with squads assembling in the early-morning hours and traveling as a group. Families and other friends ñ including the youngest cheerleaders in the non-competitive groups ñ often go along to support their teams.

The nice thing about the Pop Warner bylaws is tryouts of any kind are prohibited. So anyone who wants to join can join.

But there are rules.

When at a game, a cheerleader is expected to be in full uniform, which consists of socks, skirt, shell, briefs, optional crop top, bows and correct shoes. When at a game, practice or competition, jewelry, including earrings, and finger nail polish are not allowed. Hair is expected to be worn up and not to be touching their collars.

Cheerleading was officially recognized for competition in the 1970s, but has been a part of the Pop Warner program for several decades. The first ever National Cheerleading competition was in DeKalb County, Ga.

This year, 160,000 competitors came from all 50 states participated in the competition.

Participation in the Pop Warner Spirit Program provides the competitors the opportunity to perform in an organized, supervised, safety-oriented environment. Pop Warner programs emphasize fun for all and encourage the development of qualities important long after Pop Warner days are gone.

The Spirit Program is growing in numbers each year due to the popularity of the sport.

Of course, there is extra time built-in to allow the team to explore the other parts of the theme park. They even had a chance to witness what became a national story.

The team from Billerica, Mass. was taking part in their first competition, so naturally it was the first year of cheer competition for Rachel Stalker. But that is not what caught everyone off guard after their routine.

The girls looked like deer in the headlights when the emcee asked them to return to the mat just after they finished their routine.

They thought they had possibly messed up.

Instead, out came Stalkerís father, Ronald, who had been flown all the way from Afghanistan to see his daughter compete.

ìIíve never seen her cheer before so itís incredible for me to be here,î he said.

That underlined what the competition is about ñ friends, teams and most of all, family.

SIDEBAR:

This yearís 2010 Pop Warner National Cheer & Dance Championships was held in Disneyís Wide World of Sports Complex, which afforded an educational experience with the latest technology:

ïThe complex incorporates the signature elements of ESPN for a one-of-a-kind experience that is designed to take youth sports to a new level and make athletes, coaches and fans feel as if they made it to the ìbig timeî and on to ESPN.

ïThe complex features a 20-zone audio system, 56 high-definition cameras (42 robotic, 10 handheld and four studio) and 40 high-definition video screens, including three jumbo screens, that can capture any competition at the complex and display live action, game highlights, player interviews and ESPN programming.

ïA 2,500-square-foot state-of-the-art Production Center with eight edit bays and uplinks to ESPN facilities in Bristol, Conn., New York and Los Angeles provides competition footage to various ESPN media platforms such as ESPN, ESPNRISE.com and ESPN3.com.

The cheerleading competitions will be scheduled on ESPN this winter.

ïThe ESPN Innovation Lab, where new on-air products are developed and tested utilizing the athletes and events taking place at the complex. Additionally, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex was recently designated as ESPNís development hub for 3D telecast technology.

ïThe redesigned and renamed ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill, a sports-themed eatery with high-definition TV screens, live radio remote capabilities and a SportsCenter desk.

ïThe PlayStation Pavilion features 17 PlayStation 3 systems, including a SingStar stage, and a collection of just-released sports-themed games and other titles.

ïThe Welcome Center is an information hub for sports complex guests looking for sports event information as well as theme park information, dining reservation, golf tee times, etc.

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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