New Berlin - Despite waiting an excruciating 4½ hours to take off in a snowstorm in Milwaukee and then facing another holdup in Atlanta, the Eisenhower High School cheerleaders still had enough smiles and enough pep to compete in Orlando, Fla.
The team took 11th in the nation this month at the National High School Cheerleading Championships, a first in the school's history, said Susan Belongia, head cheerleading coach.
Recalling the travail the 18 girls and their two coaches went through to get to the nationals, Belongia said it was not only uncomfortable to sit on the tarmac at Gen. Mitchell International Airport that long as the Feb. 7 snowstorm hammered the area, but it was scary. The plane's wings kept icing up and deicing operations, critical to keeping the plane in the air, had to be done three times.
"Many of my girls wanted to go home," Belongia said, though their desire to compete at the highest level proved stronger.
What was supposed to be a two-hour flight to Atlanta, followed by a connecting flight to Orlando, consumed eight hours instead. To make matters worse, when they finally arrived in Atlanta at 12:30 a.m. Feb. 8, they found that they had not only missed their connecting flight, but that a blizzard had shut down flights up and down the East Coast.
Desperate to arrive in Orlando on that Friday so they could have some decompression time before the Feb. 9 competition, the girls and coaches were told that they could not leave for Orlando until the day of the event - and even then, at an uncertain time.
The squad that brings spirit and fight out of others reached down and brought it out of themselves. Sleeping in their clothes so they would be ready to roll quickly, the girls and coaches managed to hit the air bound for Orlando on a flight that would get them there in time for their big moment.
Fatigue, nerves strung to the max notwithstanding, the cheerleaders rushed before their judges, facing top squads from all around the country in toe-to-toe competition.
Belongia was proud of her girls and calls their performance and 11th place finish an amazing accomplishment.
"What started as a nightmare turned out to be something great," she said.
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