01/24/11 — Unusual phone call leads to trip of lifetime for EW cheerleading squad

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Unusual phone call leads to trip of lifetime for EW cheerleading squad

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 24, 2011 1:47 PM

The phone message seemed just a little too good to be true.

The caller left an invitation that Kerri Lee just couldn't believe.

Eastern Wayne selected to cheer in the annual Gator Bowl? On New Year's Day, no less?

"I really didn't think about doing anything because I had never heard of it before," said Lee.

Lee received a callback and asked how they found out about her squad. Ironically, the caller had no clue who submitted the school's name to the committee.

Stay home or go?

A tough choice, especially when the destination turned out to be 50-plus degrees warmer and the cheerleaders could escape their parents' clutches for more than a weekend.

Lee went through the necessary channels to get the trip approved. She counted money and wrote numerous receipts for the girls, who did their own personal fund-raising for the trip. Once "the day" arrived, they piled onto a bus driven by former N.C. State basketball standout Lorenzo Charles and made the trek to south Florida.

What happened next?

A dream no longer became a fantasy.

The Warriors, 24 strong, practiced for two days with some of the world's top choreographers. They visited Universal Studios and Downtown Disney, and attended the cheerleading competition sponsored by the Gator Bowl Association.

Lee didn't enter her squad, but she encouraged junior Marquise Whitfield to compete in the jump-off portion of the contest. Whitfield placed second, much to the delight of his teammates, coaches and the five parents who chaperoned the trip.

"The boy can jump and he can tumble," smiled Lee.

Eastern Wayne participated in the Gator Bowl halftime show, which featured more than 300 cheerleaders from across the nation. The cheer/dance routine didn't last long, but it was an eye-opening experience for Lee's group. The team finally understood why their coach pushed them hard each day in practice.

"I told them, 'This team, this year was not the actual team that got recognized (for the invitation)'," said Lee. "They sent out the invitations last spring. I said, 'Someone else has worked hard for you to get this opportunity. You need to show everybody else that we deserve that opportunity, and how hard we've been working all year.'

"I am very proud of my group."

Lee took a big breath.

She sighed.

Then a big smile brightened her face.

"We've been invited to cheer at the BCS Championship game (in New Orleans) next year," said Lee. "I don't know if we can go because it might be during exam week. We'll just have to see."