The Naperville Chargers Junior Pee Wee cheerleading team, with cheerleaders who range in age from 8 to 11 years old, is growing and succeeding.
Last year, while competing for the first time, the girls earned the chance to compete at the Pop Warner Cheer and Dance National Championship in Disney World, where they placed fourth among the 16 best teams in the nation.
This year, our team has grown from eight girls to 18 and remains highly competitive. Once again the team has earned a place in the Pop Warner National Championships, with competition taking place this week in Florida.
The girls have learned they can do anything they set their minds to and are willing to work for; that teamwork makes all things possible. They have learned to see greatness in themselves and in each other.
On Oct. 16, they won first place at the Chicagoland Pop Warner Conference Championships. Then, on Nov. 6, they competed in the MidAmerica Regional Championships at Northern Illinois University. They placed first out of nine teams in their division, based on age, difficulty and size. The top finish earned them their place at the national championships.
The girls are simply incredible. At such a young age, they understand the value of being great students, outstanding athletes and genuinely good people. They are learning to overcome obstacles, to help others and to be respectful and responsible citizens.
The team also is fortunate to have a dynamic group of coaches. Only one coach on the staff has a daughter on the team. They volunteer out of love for the sport and for these girls.
As head coach, I work hand-in-hand with my 18-year-old daughter, Niani, who encouraged me to start coaching after she finished her seven years as a Pop Warner cheerleader and wanted to come back to volunteer.
She is taking a gap year, after finishing high school, studying abroad in South Africa for 16 months. She is currently applying to college and is an intern at Burke, Warren, McKay and Serritella, a Chicago law firm.
For the past four years, I have coached with Sharonda Brown, who is the mother of 9-year-old Gianna, one of our cheerleaders. We both serve on the Chargers board of directors; we have 12-year-old sons who play football for the Chargers; and our husbands coach our sons' teams. (Yes, it is definitely a family affair.)
I am also assisted by Elayna Pappas, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Illinois, where she was captain of the Illinettes Dance team. This is her second year coaching with us. She is an EMT and is preparing to enter graduate school at DePaul University in January. Pappas has a 12-year-old brother who plays football for the Chargers, and her dad is a head coach (my son plays on his team).
We also are joined by Emlee Nowicki-Goff and Lena Nasman, both former Pop Warner teammates of my daughter and former Bolingbrook High School varsity cheerleaders. Nowicki-Goff is in the Army Reserves and Nasman is a student at College of DuPage. Both are 19 and volunteer more than 10 hours a week coaching.
Lastly, the team is fortunate to have four high school students who act as demonstrators. Allison Powell, Isabella Ancona, Madison Kosar and Sara James are all varsity cheerleaders at Waubonsie Valley High School. They volunteer numerous hours each week to help our team. Allison and Isabella are also honors students.