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Just a few months ago, Taft 7-12 student Nicole Sperry tried out of the Tiger cheer squad despite not having any cheer experience. Now, she touts the title of All-American cheerleader and will be representing Taft at the world famous London New Year’s Day Parade.

At the end of her junior year last spring, Sperry decided to tryout for the cheer squad and immediately fell in love with the sport because of the camaraderie amongst her and her fellow cheerleaders.

“I love everything about it, but I really appreciate how we are always supporting each other during practice,” Sperry said. “If someone’s learning a new tumbling skill, we’re always cheering them on, no matter the skill level. If someone messes up in a stunt, we tell them they got it and throw it right back up.

“It’s nice to have an entire team cheering you on while we’re all learning together. During practice, we’re all a family.”

Although still new to the sport, Sperry jump-started her cheer career at a three-night, four-day rigorous cheer camp at Pacific University in Forest Grove this summer. During the camp, Sperry said she gained more knowledge, strength and formed a stronger bond with her team. It was an unforgettable experience unlike anything Sperry had ever been apart of.

"We were on our feet all day everyday, learning something new,” Sperry said. “I’ve never pushed myself to learn so much in such a small amount of time, but it was absolutely worth it.”

While at camp, the cheerleaders learned new stunting and dance routines, which Sperry said were her favorite. During the stunting classes, she discovered that she had a natural knack for it.

“Before camp, I was struggling to put up an extension and then I go into stunt class and me and my team were throwing up stunts we didn’t even know we could do,” Sperry said. “It showed me how much my team and I could accomplish when we did our absolute best.”

Sperry’s skills at camp landed her a nomination to audition for the All-American program, which are selected by the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) and National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) at summer camps across the country. The All-American judges assess each person on four things throughout the time they spend with them: poise, technique, showmanship and crowd-leading skills.

“When you’re nominated to audition for the All-American tryout, you perform your best jump, the cheer and the dance we were taught during camp,” Sperry said. “Doing your best and staying positive and happy during your tryout is what will make you stand out from everyone.”

The UCA and NCA stated that only the top 12 percent of athletes who attend camp earn the chance to perform earn an invite to London, so Sperry made it her goal to stand out. She accomplished that goal and her hard work she had put in at camp was all validated when she was named an All-American.

“I worked very hard to earn the status of an All-American and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share that with everyone,” Sperry said. “Being able to represent my team, my school and my town in the London Parade was something that I didn’t even think I would be doing at the beginning of the season.”

“It’s been so long since Taft has had the opportunity to be shown in such a big event like this, and I’m so honored to be the one to represent my skills and community in the parade.”

Sperry joins more than 800 high school cheerleaders from across the United States, who will be representing Varsity Spirit in the parade. However, she is still in the process of funding her overseas trip and has set up a gofundme page, which is set at a goal of $5,000.

“Being a senior, I won’t have this opportunity again and it would mean so much to me if I were able to go,” Sperry’s page reads. “Any donation that you are willing to support me with is greatly appreciated.”

The page can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2ZjeRNE.

Looking ahead

With the school year just days away, Sperry said she is excited to see what her senior year holds, but will staying focused on classes to prepare for college next year.

“All the senior activities are something I’ve been looking forward to for a while now,” Sperry said. “Getting this far in high school was something I wasn’t sure was going to happen, but I’m here now and I can only go forward.”

Sperry said cheer has been a big motivator for her to be successful in school and as a person.

“It puts me in a position where I’m not only bringing spirit to the school, but it also holds me to a higher standard in class and participating in general,” Sperry said. “I’m very excited to show what we are able to do this year, and being a senior, I expect us to be the best at everything we put our minds to. It’s my last chance to cheer on my school, so I want it to be amazing.”

Now with the title of All-American, Sperry knows that adds an extra spotlight to her cheerleading career. And for her, she is embracing it and wants to set an example for any future Tiger cheerleaders in the making.

“For the younger kids that are thinking about joining cheer, I can’t explain how much I hope you go for it,” Sperry said. “Cheer shows you what a family away from home can feel like. It pushes you to be stronger, more positive and brings you to a place where you can always feel safe.”

Sperry reiterated that cheer is not just for girls… it’s for everyone.

“If you’re a boy who wants to join cheer and you’re afraid of what might happen, just know that the cheer team will never make you feel different. We accept everyone as equals because that’s what we all are. If you’re in the LGBTQ+ community, we will always treat you equally. No one is ever going to be discriminated against. It is a place of love and strength.”

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