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Florida, here they come

The Chester High cheerleaders will be performing on national television along with other cheerleaders at the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.
The Chester High cheerleaders will be performing on national television along with other cheerleaders at the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.

CHESTER -- Cheerleaders Kim Davis, Haven Bennett and Quysheria Jordan are used to waving pompoms to cheer on the Chester Cyclones' football and basketball teams.

The 19-member Chester High School varsity cheerleaders perform stunts and dances and shout for their team and loyal Chester supporters during home and away games.

But never with a chance to be on TV. Until now.

On Monday, the cheerleaders leave for a five-day trip to Jacksonville, Fla., where they will march and open up the Gator Bowl parade on New Year's Eve. Then, they'll dance during halftime of the New Year's Day Konica Minolta Gator Bowl matchup between Clemson University and the University of Nebraska.

It's during that halftime show that hometown viewers might catch a glimpse of the Chester cheerleaders on TV.

"We're lucky," said the 16-year-old Bennett, a two-year member. "This is the first time our squad has done this. I feel privileged and honored to be part of it."

The squad is the only cheer group that's participating from Chester, Lancaster and York counties, said Kristin Kidman of Bowl Games of America.

"The Gator Bowl is an invite-only list of maybe 25 cheerleading squads," Kidman said. "It's a huge accomplishment that they were invited. We're so excited to have them at the Gator Bowl this year. They're a fabulous squad."

Another team from Varnville, in Hampton County, is the only other squad from the Palmetto State. The lineup includes squads from 20 other states, including North Carolina, California, Texas, New York and Ohio.

"I didn't know our squad was on the map," said Jordan, 17.

Coaches Tammy Graham and Stephanie Jacobs are thrilled.

"It's good for them to know that they're actually on the same level as some of the competitive squads," Jacobs said. "I'm very proud of these girls because they've worked very hard. They're very deserving."

Nearby, squad members practiced a stunt that involved lifting and holding Paige Mathias -- a flyer, or the person who is held in the air. Feat accomplished, Mathias, 15, smiled before descending from the stunt.

"Oh my goodness. I'm so excited," she said. "I get to fly and perform in front of a lot of people instead of a couple people who we already know."

The squad does not participate in competitive events. They performed when the Chester Cyclones vied for the 2007 Class AAA state championship at William Brice Stadium in Columbia, Graham said.

They also cheered when the Cyclones'played for the Class AAA football state championship title this year at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, she said.

Now, the Gator Bowl parade and subsequent football game will allow the squad to perform in front of a combined 70,000 spectators.

"They have performed in two of the largest college-level football stadiums in South Carolina," Graham said as the squad practiced a dance. "This newest endeavor takes them to the next level."

Quatayvia Griffin, 17, a three-year squad member, barely could contain her enthusiasm.

"I'm ready to go," she said with a grin before turning serious.

The Chester High School senior's hometown wrestles with high unemployment rates and shuttered businesses.

"We're from a small town, and not a lot of big things are happening," she said. "We're thankful for the opportunity to prove to people that we are a squad and can make things happen."

Teammate Ashleigh Coleman added, "Going looks good for the community."

The parade starts at 3 p.m. Wednesday in downtown Jacksonville. The matchup between Clemson and Nebraska kicks off at 1 p.m. Thursday on CBS.

The Chester Cyclones cheer squad, led by squad captain Kim Davis, will be there thanks in part to community support and fundraisers.

"It's such a prestigious game," Davis said. "Only the best cheerleaders are invited to perform. It's about the squad selling themselves to the crowd."

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