LEWISTOWN - Walt Disney World has long been known as the place where dreams come true. For two local cheerleaders, that dream is the opportunity to perform in the All American Halftime Show, held Jan. 1 at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
Mifflin County High School senior Ashley Wert and Mifflin County Junior High School eighth-grader Shayla Milligan will travel to join a cast of young performers taking the field at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on New Year's Day.
Wert said the opportunity to perform to live music on national television has made a lifetime of dedication to the sport worthwhile.
Ashley Wert, Mifflin County High School senior, will travel to perform Jan. 1 in the Capital One Bowl All American Halftime Show in Orlando, Fla.
Shayla Milligan, Mifflin County Junior High School cheerleader, will travel to perform Jan. 1 in the Capital One Bowl All American Halftime Show in Orlando, Fla. Milligan is pictured with her brother, Trey.
"All the years, all the extra work has paid off," she said.
Wert was recently accepted to Penn State University and plans to try out for the cheerleading team this spring. The All American show gives her the opportunity to experience a larger college game, though she has always enjoyed the atmosphere of Friday night high school games too, she said.
For Milligan, the experience is brand new. The 13-year-old said this will be her first trip to Orlando and her first time performing in front of a large crowd. Though she is a little nervous about the size of the event, Milligan said she is proud to have earned a spot on the team.
"I showed them that I can do really good. ... My years of cheerleading paid up to something really special," she said.
On Dec. 28, halftime show participants will arrive in Orlando for check-in and orientation. Their second and third days in Florida will include a full day at Walt Disney World and a morning at Universal Orlando. Practice for the halftime show begins at 7 p.m. Dec. 30 and continues through the next day.
On the morning of Jan. 1, the performers will attend a final dress rehearsal. Wert's mother, Dawn, said the final rehearsal is a special opportunity for family members and chaperones to watch the full performance before the game begins.
Preparation for the half time show has been a challenge since participants are not assigned a position until they arrive at the field. Wert said performers are required to learn two dances, each containing four parts, or risk dismissal from the event.
As the trip approaches, both local athletes continue to rehearse and prepare with the support of their mentors and coaches. Milligan said she looks to her CheerForce Allstars coach, Abby Nace, for encouragement.
"She has cheered for the same squad as me," Milligan said, and often pulls Milligan aside to offer corrections or suggest improvements.
Wert said she shares a similar relationship with her mom.
"She's my coach for my (Wildcat Allstars) team ... and just my coach in general. She's always been my coach," she said with a smile.
Milligan will make the 19-hour drive to Orlando with mother, Jessica, father, P.J., and siblings, Trey, Dudley, Patrick, Maliki and Irelynn Milligan.
"She works hard. She's determined," Jessica said about her daughter.
She shared a story from a competition last year where Shayla fell out of a full extension during practice, iced her injury, and returned to the floor for the team's judged performance.
"You would have never known," she was injured, Jessica said. "She just went out and did the greatest job ever."
Jessica said she enjoys watching her daughter perform and will be proud to see her take part in the halftime show.
Like Milligan, Wert said she will be making the trip by car. Her mother, Dawn, cousin, Haylie Knepp, and aunt, Bobbi Knepp, will ride along to support her.
"I am more proud than words can express. She set the goal and made it happen," Dawn said.
The Capital One Bowl, matching the University of Georgia against the University of Nebraska and featuring a performance by Dierks Bentley and the All American Halftime Show, will air at 1 p.m. on Jan. 1 on ABC. For more information about the halftime show, visit www.espshow.com.