When Shannon Ferguson took over the cheerleading program at Pope John Paul II High School in Boca Raton three years ago, she hoped to lead the squad to new heights.
The Eagles have done just that and will take on their biggest challenge when they perform at the 2013 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl featuring the Northwestern University Wildcats and the Mississippi State University Bulldogs. The game takes place in Jacksonville on Jan. 1.
“This is unbelievable,” Ferguson said. “It has been so much work, but it is so exciting to finally see it all come together. We are so proud of (the girls).”
The Eagles’ squad of 15 will join dance, cheer and drill teams from across the country in the halftime show being put together by nationally acclaimed choreographers. Over their three days in Jacksonville, the Eagles will also compete against other squads in their first-ever national cheerleading competition.
Parkland’s Adrianna Miranda, 16, is one of several Broward County girls on the squad.
“This is amazing,” said Miranda, a junior and one of six captains. “I enjoy it and we are always a family.”
Miranda is looking forward to the Gator Bowl experience.
“There won’t be a lot of pressure,” Miranda said. “I like being in front of a crowd.”
Ferguson, who spent three years as a Miami Dolphins’ cheerleader, said they were also invited three years ago, but she turned down the opportunity because she didn’t feel the squad was ready. Since then, they have performed at halftime of Miami Heat and Miami Dolphins’ games and prior to Miami Marlins’ games.
“It’s been a huge undertaking,” said Ferguson, who also credited Assistant Coach Ashley Kowalski with the team’s success.
When the girls arrive in Jacksonville on Dec. 31, the cheerleading competition will take center stage and spotlight teams from throughout the United States. They will then embark on a New Year’s dinner cruise and march in the Gator Bowl parade, all leading up to their halftime show performance.
Kowalski, a 2011 Pope John Paul II grad, was the cheerleading captain for four years. She appreciates the hard work of the squad, which trains three hours a day twice a week.
“I have noticed them getting excited the past few weeks in preparing with all of the long hours of practicing,” said Kowalski, whose sister, Courtney, is a senior cheerleader on the squad.
— Gary Curreri
Lauderdale players part of netball action
The fast-growing sport of netball was in the spotlight in South Florida recently as Pompey Park in Delray Beach hosted a three-match Atlantic Cup series between the United States and Bermuda.
The United States of America Netball Association team, coached by Roland Flynn, includes players from Fort Lauderdale, New York, Chicago and Missouri.
Molly Rhone, president of the International Federation of Netball Associations, flew in to attend the series from her home country of Jamaica.
“Netball has a lot of potential in South Florida,” Rhone said. “Many of the people who live here come from an ethnic background. Their families settled here, and now their children are learning the sport.”
An under-21 team representing the USANA will compete in Scotland next year, and the regular association team hopes to qualify for the 2015 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia.