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Article updated: 12/26/2012 2:25 PM

Larkin High School poms prepare for Orange Bowl

By Tara García Mathewson

The Larkin High School poms squad will join hundreds of dancers nationwide in a halftime performance at Monday's Orange Bowl, featuring Northern Illinois University and Florida State.

The girls got the prestigious invitation after winning first place in the Class 3A open dance contest of the Team Dance Illinois State Championships last March. The state title was Larkin's first in its 50-year history for any sport.

Micaela Bender transferred to Larkin High School her junior year and is one of three seniors on the team. She has been dancing for 15 years and wants to turn her passion into a career after graduation.

Bender said the poms are very excited about their success in the last year.

"I'm really proud of our team that we won state and on top of that we were invited to the Orange Bowl," Bender said. "I feel like we're representing Larkin very positively."

The invitation to perform is an exclusive offer made only to the state's top teams. The Larkin girls have been fundraising since the summer to cover the cost of airfare for the trip. They leave Thursday.

The team has been practicing the choreography for the halftime performance alongside routines for Team Dance Illinois and Illinois High School Association competitions. This is the first year the Illinois High School Association has recognized dance as a competitive sport, leaving teams across the state to adapt to new judging styles.

Poms coach Laura Newmeyer, a second-grade teacher at Timber Trails Elementary School in Hoffman Estates, said the Orange Bowl organizers handle the costumes, makeup and choreography. The high school dancers will get a chance to work with some of the nation's top choreographers in Florida.

"The girls are going to get the chance of a lifetime," Newmeyer said.

Newmeyer was with the Conant High School band when it performed in the Orange Bowl parade, but it hasn't been back in the 30 years since.

Members of last year's championship team who have since graduated were invited to Florida for the performance but could not make the trip. All of the dancers from across the country received DVDs with the choreography to practice individually. The group will perfect the routine once they arrive in Miami.

The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

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