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VOL. 128 | NO. 245 | Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Varsity Spirit Keeps Parades Stocked With Talent

By ERIN WILLIAMS

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The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marks more than just the beginning of the holiday season – it also kicks off a wave of parades across the world, from New York to Philadelphia to Houston to Florida to London.

Memphis-based Varsity Spirit Corp. cheerleaders and dancers will be among those participating in the London New Year’s Day Parade.

(Courtesy of Varsity)

Among those in the parade crews who will be kicking, flipping and sashaying down the streets in the U.S. and abroad are nearly 3,000 cheerleaders and dancers that were selected to be a part of the Varsity Spirit Corp.’s All-American program.

Based in Memphis for nearly 40 years, the company acts as an umbrella for several cheer and dance associations, uniform and clothing retailers, and camps and clinics across the country. Participants are typically invited to try out for the All-American program during their time at cheer camp.

“About 10 to 12 percent of our campers are chosen to be All-Americans,” Varsity vice president of public relations Sheila Noone said of the 325,000 that pass through their training programs each year.

The campers are dispersed to one of six parades that take place between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

“These parades are a way to reward them, (to) say, ‘You have this opportunity now to be on a national stage,’” Noone said.

Once they are chosen and decide where they will travel to, it’s up to the camper to come up with his or her own funds, including airfare, hotel, meals and sightseeing activities.

“These girls are really talented and aren’t scared to put out their talents to other people,” said Desta Walker, a high school senior from Middleton, Tenn., who is traveling to London to participate in the New Year’s Day parade.

This was Walker’s second year being chosen for the All-American program but her first time taking advantage of the opportunity for the trip.

“My mother is also my (cheer) coach, so she decided kind of for me that I was going to one or the other this year,” Walker said. “I wasn’t even going to consider going because I knew it was a lot of money and we have other stuff to deal with.”

High school senior Briana Brasfield worked tirelessly raising money to fund her trip to London this year to dance in the New Year’s Day parade, choosing London over New York to extend her fundraising time.

In addition to financial support from her aunt, who will be accompanying her, she fundraised through “car washes, road blocks, suppers – anything you can imagine,” Brasfield said of her prep work. “We would cook and paint faces and we did have some of those businesses that would say ‘Yes, I’d like to sponsor you,’ and just give me the money just because they were proud of what I’d accomplished.”

Brasfield, of Halls, Tenn., had only been on the school’s cheer and dance team for a year when she made the decision to try out for the program while at camp this summer. She had to learn an additional routine, which was performed in front of the entire camp.

“You have to be self-motivated to get up the money, and that’s why some girls, whenever they do try out and make it ... they either don’t think they will have enough money or don’t think they can work hard enough to get the money, so they just don’t try,” she said.

Brasfield has learned three routines, one of which she will be assigned to perform in London.

The experience is about more than just performing for an audience of nearly 300 million television viewers and more than 600,000 spectators – it marks Brasfield’s first time to travel, both internationally and on a plane.

“I’ll probably come home and make a scrapbook, ’cause it is pretty big for me,” she said.

Brasfield is hoping to continue her career once she graduates from high school, and has looked into the program at the University of Memphis. Being selected for the Varsity program was “a really big confidence booster,” she said. “Just knowing that if you put in that hard work you really can do whatever you set your mind to.”

Noone said she is proud of the talent that Memphis’ own Varsity Spirit has chosen for these big stages.

“They really do represent the best of the best in this country,” she said.

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