HERSHEY - Six local cheerleaders were selected to cheer at the 2012 55th PNC Big 33 Football Classic set to kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey.
Morgan Betlyon, Alysha Bunch, Lindsay Curry and Lauren Wagner, four recently graduated Mifflin County High School cheerleaders, were nominated and selected, and for the first time in Greenwood High School history, that school has produced two Big 33 cheerleaders as well, Allee Kessler and Meagan Lebkicher.
Greenwood Coach Chelsea Nastasi commented that she nominated both girls for the Big 33 because they had expressed interest and knew how much work they would have to put into it.
Sentinel photos by BUFFIE BOYER
Local cheerleaders who are members of the Big 33 cheerleading squad are, from left, Alysha Bunch, Mifflin County; Meagan Lebkicher, Greenwood; Morgan Betlyon, Mifflin County; Allee Kessler, Greenwood; Lauren Wagner, Mifflin County; and Lindsay Curry, Mifflin County. The Mifflin County girls are on the Pennsylvania squad and the Greenwood girls are on the Ohio squad.
"They are talented and hardworking, I knew if I nominated them they would see it through because they are exceptional and driven girls," Nastasi said.
Allee Kessler cheered for Greenwood for two years and also cheered for the local all star team. Her coach commented that she is a very talented individual and is always willing to work hard to become better.
Meagan Lebkicher has cheered for Greenwood for four years and during the fall, winter and competition seasons. Additionally, she has worked on perfecting her cheerleading skills in other ways such as through her involvement with dance at a local studio.
About 60 cheerleaders are selected from among all Pennsylvania high school seniors. Nominees for the Big 33 squad must have cheered for a full year during senior year, have good grades, and, of course, try out.
Each girl's cheering experience ranges far beyond high school football games, whether it be cheering for peewee and midget leagues or in junior high. Many of the girls also have experience in dance and gymnastics, which adds greatly to their stunting and jumping abilities.
Former Mifflin County cheerleading coach Jill Hartsock said each girl she nominated has been cheering and competing from a very young age all the way through varsity. She also said that they have a lot of experience and talent to bring to the Big 33 program.
Lauren Wagner has been cheering for 11 years, having cheered for Indian Valley from junior high until last year, when she began cheering for Mifflin County after the merger with Lewistown. Wagner also cheered for the Wildcat All Star Team. She plans to attend Penn State-Altoona in the fall, and said she is interested in joining the PSU-Altoona competition squad. She also plans to return to the Wildcats open team.
"I'm excited to finally be cheering on the football field again. It will be cool to meet girls from all over Pennsylvania," Wagner said.
Morgan Betlyon has cheered for 12 years and joined the Wildcats when she was about 10 years old. She also cheered for Indian Valley until last year, when she began cheering for Mifflin County varsity and the Mifflin County competitive squad. Betlyon also plans to join the open team for the Wildcats.
Betlyon said she is most excited to be cheering at Hersheypark Stadium. "It's going to be a great experience cheering in front of all those people," she said.
Lindsay Curry, too, is no stranger to cheering and says she has been doing it since she was 5. During her first year in cheerleading she was the team mascot, displaying the team spirit she has shown her entire life. She cheered and competed for Lewistown throughout junior high and high school, and also cheered and competed with Mifflin County this past year.
When asked why she wanted to be a part of the Big 33 Curry said, "Cheerleading isn't something that gets recognized a lot, and with the Big 33 we finally do."
Alyshia Bunch has been cheering since she was 3 years old. She cheered for Indian Valley and then Mifflin County and has been a member of the Wildcat All Star team for 12 years. She said she is excited to meet so many new people through the Big 33.
In their involvement with the Wildcats, the girls have won multiple national titles, one world title and various regional and district titles, making them well prepared to tackle the task of trying out and cheering for the Big 33.
In addition to cheering at the game, the girls spend the week of the game in the Hershey area, practicing and spending time with their "buddies."
The Big 33 Buddy program was designed to partner kids with special needs with a Big 33 player, cheerleader or coach and to allow both the buddy and the player to establish a special friendship. Buddies have the opportunity during the week of the game to have lunch with their cheerleader, attend the Big 33 Honors Banquet and the Big 33 Game.
"The buddy program is great because we really get to make an impact on our buddy's life. They get to do something most people don't think they would be capable of doing," Wagner said,
The girls said that they basically spend the entire week leading up to the game with their buddy. Cheerleaders teach their buddies the cheers, dances and even a halftime routine.
Tickets for the 2012 55th PNC Big 33 Football Classic, which matches the Pennsylvania all-stars against the Ohio all-stars, are available at the Hersheypark Box Office located at the Giant Center in Hershey or by phone, 534-3911.
Tickets are also available online at Ticketmaster.com.