Big 33

HERSHEY – Next month, a group of local cheerleaders will leave their high school football fields behind to perform at Hersheypark Stadium.

Mifflin County High School cheerleaders Kiersten Capouillez, Madalyn Clouser, Ashley Wert and Juniata High School cheerleader McKenna Cleck have been chosen to perform at the 56th Big 33 Football Classic Game. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:06 p.m. June 15 at the stadium.

MCHS coach Collette Bender said cheerleaders were nominated by their coaches and participated in tryouts before being selected to perform at the game. To qualify, she said, athletes must be high school seniors currently cheering for their school’s football team and maintain grades higher than a C.

“(Judges) prefer (cheerleaders) to be well rounded,” said Angela Clark, JHS cheerleading coach.

The same holds true on the field. Both coaches agreed that cheerleaders with the most diverse set of abilities have a greater chance of being selected for the team.

“It’s the best cheerleaders in the whole state of Pennsylvania,” who are chosen, Cleck said.

At tryouts, cheerleaders had to learn and perform a fast-paced routine that challenged them to dance, stunt and jump to the best of their ability.

Clouser said participants didn’t know the dance ahead of time and had to memorize the moves in about an hour. Though the girls agreed they left tryouts unsure of their performances, Clouser said she was “just happy I got the chance to do it.”

When the girls received word that they were accepted onto the team, they were even happier.

“I was real excited, I was jumping around my house!” Cleck said.

For Wert, the chance to cheer at the Big 33 game has been years in the making.

“Before the schools merged, I had friends who participated in Big 33 … I heard so much about it,” she said, adding that making the team has been a long-term goal.

Cleck said she has been a flyer and a base on cheerleading teams in the past and will maintain her position as base on the Maryland team at the game. The MCHS cheerleaders will join her on the Maryland team, but have not received their positions yet.

Bender said the cheerleaders have to be prepared to perform in any position on the field since judges seek athletes who have “everything in one package” during tryouts.

Wert said she especially enjoys tumbling and basing really hard stunts – maneuvers that she says make her “feel powerful.”

“(The cheerleaders) are willing to do whatever you ask of them,” Bender said. “They’re go-getters … not ones that are going to sit back.”

Also during the game, cheerleaders will participate in the Big 33 Buddy Program, which partners special needs children with Big 33 athletes. Capouillez said spending time with her buddy is the thing she is looking forward to most about the experience.

“I enjoy being the person that can cheer people up and encourage them … give them something they don’t always get to do,” she said.

Capouillez said cheerleaders meet with their buddies on Thursday and Friday during the week of the game to learn cheers, design T-shirts and hang out together.

Kiersten Clark, eighth grade student in the Juniata County School District, will also attend the Big 33 game as a volunteer for the Buddy Program. Clark said she has been an all star cheerleader for seven years and will cheer at JHS in the fall.

During practices, Clark will help teach the buddies cheers and their halftime performance.

“I love seeing their smiling faces,” she said. “Not only do they look up to the cheerleaders, they look up to us.”

Angela Clark said there is nothing better than game day when the athletes and buddies come together.

“You don’t have to tell (the buddies) to get excited … they’re never tired!” she said. “I think it’s inspiring for the cheerleaders, too.”

After the game, three of the girls plan to pursue cheerleading outside of high school. Clouser said she will take a year off to work and continue cheering with her all star team, then plans to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania to become a physician assistant. She added that she plans to join the National Guard during college.

Wert said she will take a temporary leave from cheerleading to attend Penn State University, majoring in film and video. However, she would like to own an all star gym or coach high school cheerleading in the future, she said.

Cleck plans to attend Penn State Altoona and try out for the cheerleading squad there.

When the Big 33 game is over, Capouillez said she will hang up her pom pons to study actuarial science at Lebanon Valley College.

But for now, the cheerleaders look forward to one last “hurrah” before the next chapter begins.

“Not everyone has the chance to show everyone how good they are,” Clouser said, adding that the Big 33 game is a chance to “show everybody what we can do.”