By Butch Weir/Special to the Item
The Picayune Item
Six members of the Poplarville High School cheerleading squad experienced one of those ‘highlight of your life’ experiences on Thanksgiving day.
Bethany Alexander, Ashley Smith, Ashleigh Schubert, Brice Smith, Larke Bickham, and Samantha Temple joined more than 700 cheerleaders from across the nation in leading the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City.
A cheerleader’s parent said 10 juniors and seniors on the squad received the invitation when they attended the UCA Cheer Camp this summer and six decided to go.
She says Spirit of America Productions in Dallas, Texas, which is in charge of planning for the trip, chose the cheerleaders for the opening performance for the parade. The tour started with orientation on Saturday, Nov. 17. Departure was the following Friday, Nov. 23.
From the girls’ conversation, a picture emerged that New York City culture is very different from south Mississippi. One summed it up simply, “It’s a different culture; a different style of living.”
“A lot of the people were surprisingly nice. Many people tell you they’re mean when you get up there,” another said. They also talked about how the city as a whole was different, with everything being up and down and so much being underground instead of spread out.
All of them commented more or less positively about the food, especially the pizza and the amount of bakeries everywhere. “They don’t have sweet tea,” one exclaimed. “That was a big turnoff for me.” One said she saw some at a McDonald’s, to which another said, “But it wasn’t the real thing. It tasted funny.”
They spent the first part of the trip learning the parade routine, the cheerleaders’ place in it and the routines for which they, as a group of more than 700, would be responsible. That routine consisted of an opening dance and several different stops along the route to do five or six different cheers about Macy’s, Thanksgiving and other themes.
The parade length, about three miles, they said. When they finished, they were taken by subway back to the parade starting point and then followed Santa Claus back along the route to Macy’s.
Some of the guest celebrities the girls saw during the trip were Trace Adkins, The Fab Five, and Whoopi Goldberg. Later some of them caught sight of Regis and Joy Philbin and Jessica Lang, who were there attending the International Emmy Awards.
Ashley Smith said going to the top of the Empire State Building was one of the many highlights of the trip for her, “and seeing the whole city lit up at night.” Ground Zero, the memorial, was another highlight. She said its like a huge fountain inscribed with the names of everyone who died in the tragedy.
She said the day of the parade was a bit cold and then seemed colder with the sun hidden by the buildings while they were walking down the streets, but she admitted not noticing it as much because of where they were, and being in the opening of the parade.
“It was cool to be able to see them announce everybody, like the host at the beginning and be there while they’re filming all that and be able to watch the very beginning of the parade.”
Bethany Alexander said her favorite part was interacting with all the other girls.
“It was just really neat to talk to girls from California, Ohio and talk to all them about different things they did on their trip … and us all come together and learn this one big dance together.”
“It was just a really fun experience; I enjoyed it a lot.”
Ashleigh Schubert said she just enjoyed being in the parade and walking that three mile distance.”
“I’ve been in parades, but not one so long, so it was nice to see everything and all of the people around — just out there to see everybody in the parade. It was nice getting to wave at all the people and look at them.”
As far as the New York experience, she enjoyed seeing the Broadway show, Bring It On, the musical, “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“I think I enjoyed it because I can relate (to it) since it was a bunch of cheerleaders.”
Getting to go on the subway was also tops on her list, she said, because there is nothing like that around here, along with the harbor cruise and seeing the Statue of Liberty.
Brice Smith said getting to see the throngs of people watching the parade and just being in the parade itself in New York “was just a humbling experience.”
She said on the trip itself the historical sites interested her more — “the places that have been in movies and that you see in pictures and the Internet all the time. Just being able to see those … and the Rockettes: That was a really fun experience.”
Samantha Temple said she enjoyed all the historical buildings, and shopping. Seeing Times Square all lit up at nighttime was a wonderful sight also.
She said going from South Mississippi all the way to New York was a huge difference. “Everything from the food to the fashion was different, and it was so culturally diverse that I was amazed,” Temple said. “Everyone spoke a different language, or had a foreign accent, and I loved it. I was snapping pictures like crazy, and I can only imagine what all of the locals were thinking about such a Southern tourist like myself.
“I always watched the Macy’s Day Parade every year, religiously. I never had any big dreams of actually being in it though,” she said.
All said they would like to go back to New York at some point because there was just so much to see and there was not enough time to do everything.
Comments on the traffic indicated another area of cultural shock, particularly the cabs and being unable to understand many of the drivers. “They talk so fast,” one said. Another commented on the number of homeless people they saw.
One of the parents said raising the funds for the trip was a long-term effort as the cost per cheerleader was about $2,500. That cost included some of their meals, entrance to some of the sights that visited, parade uniforms and pompoms, jackets and a patch for their letterman jackets.