By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
MILTON - A admiring crowd of more than 200 came to the Milton Area High School gymnasium Monday night to show appreciation for the varsity cheerleading squad, which finished fourth on Feb. 10 in the Universal Cheerleaders Association national title competition in Orlando, Fla.
“This group of ladies exceeded my expectations,” said coach Traci Ferguson — shortly after having her hair buzz cut to pay off a promise to the girls on her squad after their stellar performance all year.
“But I always knew this was a good group, since they were freshman,” she said, holding back tears. “I’m a crier, excuse me. These girls, I treat them like they’re my own kids. They have always been a great group. Hard working. Very dedicated and focused.”
Mayor Ed Nelson began the event at 6 p.m. by declaring the week of Feb. 17 Milton Competitive Cheerleaders Week, in honor of their achievement.
And what an achievement it was.
Ferguson addressing the crowd, explained how the squad at the end of last season, met and focused on the goal of making it to the nationals. “They did it by winning the District 4 competition, made it to the regionals and qualified for the national tournament. Then, their toughest challenge was to raise the $21,000 necessary to fund the trip to Orlando.”
Ferguson and her two coaches had designed a two-and-a-half-minute routine that the squad practiced two hours a day, sometimes two, three times a week.
“The competition was tough, there were 10 other schools — we were the smallest — matched by the size of our cheerleading squad. We had 21 cheerleaders,” Ferguson said, “so we competed against other schools with 21 cheerleaders or over in our category.
“On Saturday during the first round, the semifinals, we were nervous and you could tell it was a big deal. They were a lot more tense than I’ve ever seen them. We all were. I probably cried 10 times Saturday morning as people were sending us good wishes, former cheerleaders. It was highly emotional. Sunday, we were ready to go, we were our old selves again and we were ready to hit the floor.”
They made the finals and then lost second- and third-place finishes by a few points.
“Just an amazing accomplishment,” said Ferguson, who has been a cheerleading coach for 18 years. “To live out your dreams in this way.”
Three seniors on the squad came to the microphone to thank their families and friends for their support.
Alyssa Trostle said the competition fulfilled a dream of going to the national competition; Danielle Yoder said, “This was an awesome experience, the icing on the cake of my senior year”; and Jessica Dodson said, “Going to the competition was a dream come true. To go with these girls to Florida, I never thought it would happen, but it was an incredible experience. Getting to spend time with my teammates was just the best.”
Next year, it starts all over again, Ferguson said, again tearing up. “I lose 14 girls, seniors. We have some returning ladies. It’s exciting. But it will be different without this wonderful group of seniors.”