While the majority of American households gathered round their televisions this most recent holiday to enjoy the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Steinbrenner seniors Shelby Luke and Olivia Nissalke got to experience the event firsthand. Not only did the accomplished varsity cheerleaders simply attend the New York City parade, but were handpicked to showcase their cheering abilities in the nationally broadcasted performance as well.
As the only two cheerleaders selected from Hillsborough County to complete a total rank of 500 other top cheerleaders from around the nation, the girls were beyond honored to accept the once in a lifetime opportunity.
Luke, undecided, and Nissalke with plans to attend Alabama next year have been cheering since childhood. Both remember watching the parade on TV each year as children and for Luke, one day appearing in the festive event had always been a dream. However she never thought it actually possible until one of Nissalke’s friends who had appeared in the parade the year before informed them of what they needed to do in order to appear in front of thousands of live spectators, and millions of viewers from across the country.
“We are used to being in front of big audiences, however an audience of 50 million outweighs the normal Friday night football audience. I feel like being within the group of 500 girls makes it a different case instead of being out there by yourself,” said Nissalke.
To be eligible for the prestigious opportunity, the girls first had to attend UCA camp (Universal Cheerleaders Association) at the University of Central Florida and affirm their status as pre-existing captains and seniors at their respective high schools. Once chosen, the most fun yet difficult part of the process remained: training with 500 cheerleaders they had never met in their life for a nationally broadcasted performance that would occur less than a week later.
Luke and Nissalke underwent two practices a day for about two hours, each session held indoors, and both could testify the workouts were increasingly more laborious than typical practices. With just a singular dress rehearsal before the big day, the true test was yet to come. With temperatures dipping into the low 30’s, the girls would not only be expected to accurately perform the routine but do so when exposed to near freezing temperatures as well.
“The experience was a combination of excitement and numbness. I was trying to focus on just doing the routine right and staying warm. Thinking about the pressure and the cameras didn’t come to mind during the parade,” said Luke.
So on November 27th, 2014 after weeks of highly anticipated cheerleading; the girls awoke early to meet up with fellow teammates before heading out for the televised Thanksgiving celebration. Both Luke and Nissalke, prepared for the two-and-a-half-mile trek through snow, powerful winds, and people, were at last ready to live out their childhood dreams.