ORLANDO, Fla. — After two years of pumping up North Country football fans, members of the North Stars Cheerleading Team will cheer at the nationally broadcast Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.
Coach Taylor Wright, 23, Assistant Coach James Kelly, 23, Team Capt. Susie Chrisman, 21, and team members DeCotta Bapp, 19, and Sasha Marsh, 23, traveled to Orlando last weekend to meet up with members of roughly 20 other cheer teams from across the United States.
They worked together to practice and synchronize a routine that will be performed during the opening ceremonies of the college football game that pits the University of Wisconsin against the University of South Carolina, set for 1 p.m. on ABC.
According to the Nielsen ratings company, approximately 11 million people tuned in to watch the 2013 Capital One Bowl.
“It’s hitting us more now that we’re actually here in Florida than it was getting ready for it,” Marsh said in a phone interview.
Yet the journey to the Capital One Bowl did not begin in Florida, but on the shores of Brant Lake, where members of the team spent three days last August at a Universal Cheerleaders Association cheer camp.
The North Stars members had the chance to bond with 14 other cheerleading teams and take part in a series of competitions testing their cheer skills. The North Stars took first place in the dancing, cheering and stunt categories, but Wright said the team members were still surprised when they won the final camp championship event that combined all the previous skills into one routine.
“You have to perform it in front of the whole camp and a selection of Universal Cheerleading Association judges,” Wright said.
The victory secured the North Star’s position at the Pro Bowl and drew the attention of American Cheerleader Magazine.
An editor reached out to Wright for photos and team information and said the team will be featured in the publication’s next national issue.
LEVEL OF TRUST
The camp victories, Orlando trip and magazine coverage came together to fuel a rebound for the North Country team, which had dropped to five members by the end of 2012.
Wright said that the life changes that had shrunk the team were understandable when working with a group of young adults.
“Some of them decided to get married, not cheer anymore, to have children,” she said.
By the end of the 2013 season, the team had grown to 13 members, and Wright said they all have signed up to cheer for the Plattsburgh North Stars semi-pro football team in 2014.
That commitment was part of a larger bond that the cheerleaders in Orlando said had developed within the team. Whether hanging out between games or supporting each other while cheering, they agreed that a level of trust had been built among them, just as it would with the football players they root for.
“There has to be a lot of trust with other people when you’re throwing people 15 feet above your head,” Kelly said.
Building that trust and leading a cheer team has been a lifelong passion for Wright.
Her mother, Barbara, remembers when Taylor attended her first cheering clinic in kindergarten and announced that she was going to be a professional football cheering coach when she grew up.
Taylor cheered throughout high school before starting coaching preparation classes in her junior year. After graduating, she coached junior varsity cheerleading at Saranac High School for two years and varsity for another two.
Along with coaching various youth teams, Taylor served as a coach at Camp Jeanne D’Arc in Merrill, where she gave instruction to international campers from as far away as Spain and Venezuela.
“It gives her an outlet for her support and all the energy she has,” Barbara said.
That energy is being put toward taking the North Stars cheer team to greater heights, Taylor said.
Though 2013 put the team in the national spotlight, she said she’s still focused on reaching her personal goal of having the team travel for two national competitions a year.
“I definitely want to keep moving on ...,” she said.