The Schenectady High School varsity cheerleading squad has been invited as one of 30 teams to perform in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida on January 2, 2012.

Cheerleading Coach Amy Preston received a phone call from a representative of Worldstrides Heritage Performance Programs inviting the squad to the Gator Bowl.

"The phone call came in late August and I was very surprised and excited. I thought about the opportunity for a few days and asked myself all of the questions I would want to know if someone were to pitch this idea to me. I ultimately decided that with this team, their parents and myself, I believed we could do it. I presented the idea to the Athletic Director (Steve Boynton) who approved it and sent me to the Superintendent and we have been fundraising ever since," said Preston.

The invitation was given in recognition of the girls hard work and effort at National Cheerleader Association (NCA) camps, competition and their games.

But, with this great honor also comes a large bill. The total cost for the trip is $30,000. In order to fund the trip beyond what the parents and school can provide, the cheerleaders have taken on a large fundraising effort. This team of 19 girls have come together as one to work towards this huge goal.

Between selling raffle tickets, washing cars, working concession stands, selling pom pons, cheering/dancing at McDonald's night, talking to local businesses and selling candy, the squad is just making head-way for the total.

"So far, we have raised $10,000 in about eight weeks which has been pretty impressive. I am so proud of what we have accomplished but we have a long road ahead," said Preston.

Preston served as junior varsity coach for three seasons before taking over the varsity team this year.


The cheerleaders actually started the season Aug. 20 and experience a busy week that includes three practice days, the weekly game (during football season) and generally a fundraiser.

As you can imagine, Preston has a big agenda trying to get ready for the trip.

"It can be very overwhelming and I’m lucky that I have great support from the school district, my colleagues, friends and family. However, in the past few months when I have gotten overwhelmed and walked into practice or a game, the girls’ energy and enthusiasm put me right back on track," she said.


Boynton has nothing but praise for Preston and the cheerleaders.

"I am very proud of Ms. Preston and all the cheerleaders for taking on this challenge. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these young ladies and I admire the coach for saying she will do whatever it takes to raise the money needed to get her cheerleaders to Florida. In the current tough economical times, raising any amount of money is hard enough nonetheless $30,000," he said.

The cheerleaders will leave Dec. 30 for the trip. Once in Florida, the girls will be attending rehearsals for their halftime performance, in addition to participating in a parade the day before the game on Jan. 2, 2012. After performing, they will fly back home Jan. 3, 2012.

Obviously, the cheerleaders are thrilled to be making this trip but also know a lot of work has to be done in the meantime.

"It would mean a lot because it is my senior year and it would be very memorable. I was surprised. I thought it was too good to be true," said senior captain Jacque-leen Taylor.

Her teammate, senior Tricia Wazadally also feels this is a special opportunity.

"A trip to the Gator Bowl is an opportunity to get noticed, it is an honor. Excitement. I couldn't wait to tell people but then at the same time worried that we might not be able to raise all the money because it is a lot," she said.

Wazadally was asked what it would feel like to perform in front of thousands of people.

"Well, I wasn't really thinking about thousands of people, but yeah a little nervous, plus it is easier to perform in front of people that I don't know," she said.

Taylor had the same thoughts.

"I think I will be nervous but then again I think it will be a lot of fun and being there with the team will make me feel right at home," she said.

And Preston feels she's working with a special group of girls who put everything into becoming better and better.

"This group is different in the way that they interact with each other. They are competitive in a way that improves their skills and they encourage one another to get better. I also think that this particular group of girls is very hard working. In addition to cheerleading, these kids are full time students working hard towards high school diplomas. They have homework and tests to worry about on top of practices, games and now this huge responsibility of fundraising. With all of that being said, at our events the girls find a way to have fun and are always striving to get better at what they do," she said.

As Boynton summed up, "They are all working extremely hard to reach their goal. Not only are the girls working for a chance of a lifetime, they are also learning about hard work, acting professional while working with local businesses, developing their communication skills and a strengthening their work ethic. I am hopeful that all their hard work will result in a trip to the Gator Bowl, but even if it doesn’t, they will take away some lifetime skills that will carry them far in the world. They are an inspiration to all."

Article by Mike Collar