FAIRFIELD — From Sacramento to Honolulu.
That’s the journey the Vanden High School cheer team is set to complete as it makes its way to the National Football League’s Pro Bowl, which will be televised at 4 p.m. Sunday on Channel 3.
The Vikings were named the top squad last summer at their Universal Cheer Association camp at Sacramento State. The remainder of 2013 was a flurry of choices and fundraising.
“We had to first win the best overall at our UCA camp at Sacramento State, then we practiced all summer and after that we got to choose between the Macy’s (Thanksgiving Day) Parade, the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Pro Bowl,” said senior captain Chandra Marshall, one of 11 girls who will make the trip to Hawaii this week.
That’s a pretty heady list of events from which the team got to choose, but Marshall said it was an easy decision.
“We did a team vote and of course it’s in Hawaii, so everyone thought about Hawaii first,” she said.
Each girl had to raise close to $2,000 to pay for the trip, which starts Thursday.
“We did cookie dough sales, we did car washes, we sold the apparel – Vanden apparel, cheer apparel – all sorts of stuff to raise $2,000 each,” Marshall said.
The process was difficult and took no small amount of dedication.
“It takes a lot of hard work. A lot of dedication, time in practice, and just putting all this time into cheer and actually getting something like Hawaii out of it and cheering for such a big event, it’s awesome,” sophomore Brittany Jones said. “It’s a great experience.”
There was little doubt the Vikings would pull it off.
“Our team, we work really well together,” Jones said. “We knew.”
Still, it’s hard for a bunch of high school girls to fathom that they’ll be cheering for some of the best players in the NFL.
“It hasn’t gotten real until now. It probably still won’t be full, 100 percent in my head until I perform,” Jones said. “It’s crazy.”
Teammate Mikaela York, a junior, said she expects the nerves to come as the team gets ready to perform.
“When I get out there on the field, I’m definitely hoping that I’ll be able to keep up with everyone,” York said.
The reaction among the other students at Vanden has been supportive, the girls said.
“A lot of them are like, ‘Wow, you’re going to Hawaii, lucky!’ and I’m like, ‘But I’m going for business,’ ” York said. “It’s so great. I love it, being able to represent Vanden like that. It’s a great high school experience.”
“They’re supportive. Most of them are more excited about the fact that the school cheerleaders actually get to go somewhere – to Hawaii,” she said. “I don’t think they really understand the whole Pro Bowl aspect and how big of an honor it is to cheer there. They’re just really excited for us to go to Hawaii.”
Once there, though, it won’t be all fun in the sun.
“We haven’t learned anything yet. We’re going to learn it all when we get there,” said junior Renee Maquindang. “We have five-hour practices every single day.”
With three days to learn a new routine and then perform it in front of an NFL audience, the trip won’t be without pressure, but there will be time to enjoy being in Honolulu.
“We actually get a lot of free time, surprisingly. I looked at the schedule,” Maquindang said. “We get the first half of the day for free time and the last half for practice.”
The girls all have hopes for what to do with the free time.
Marshall said she’s looking forward to the warm water and the beach. York said she wants to do some sightseeing, shopping and hit the beach. Jones and Maquindang were a bit more specific.
“I really want to go swimming with sea turtles,” Jones said. “I just want to do that really bad.”
Maquindang said her goal is to swim and get lost in the Hawaiian culture – particularly the food.
It will be a special trip for all of the girls on the team.
“(My) senior year, I knew we were going to do a lot of exciting things, but I never thought the Pro Bowl would happen,” Marshall said. “It means that all these years of cheering – I have 14 years of cheering – coming up to this, it means a lot.”
For York, the whole experience has been special.
“It’s won as a team, so you have to go up as a team,” she said.
The impending trip is still hard to comprehend.
“I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to do something like this when I went into cheer,” Maquindang said. “I expected just high school cheer, so being able to go to Hawaii to cheer for professional football players is just really amazing.”
The cheerleaders have something to aim for in the future now that they have earned the honor of cheering at the Pro Bowl.
“It’s going to be tough to try to get an experience like this, but I think we’ll be able to do it,” Jones said. “Our team, we work really well together. We’re just really close. I think we can do it.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.