Three dozen cheerleaders from 20 high schools congregated on a turf field in Colonia for their first MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII practice on Monday night.
Clad in orange T-shirts with the words “Middlesex All-Star Cheer” emblazoned across the chest, the group of recently graduated high school seniors and underclassmen looked uniform.
The cheerleaders will soon have a neatly choreographed halftime routine to match their together appearance.
Blending a diverse group of cheerleaders, each of whom brings a unique skill set, is not as difficult as it appears, according to Middlesex County coaches Colleen Meyers and Jackie Cassidy, who both teach and coach at Spotswood High School.
“I don’t think it’s as much of a challenge,” said Meyers, who has coached the Middlesex County squad for more than two decades. “I think it’s relatively easy now since we’ve been doing this as long as we have.”
As football players trained on an adjacent gridiron field for the charity all-star game against Union County, which will be contested July 16 at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium at 7 p.m., the cheerleaders were working just as hard on their halftime routine.
The routine is choreographed to a mix of Top 40 hits including Uptown Funk and Thinking Out Loud and provides the cheerleaders, who will also be chanting and performing on the sidelines throughout the game, an opportunity to showcase their talents in front of several thousand spectators.
“They know what the expectation is, the level of technique we need,” said Meyers, noting that coaches send her and Cassidy experienced cheerleaders with various strengths. “They all really desire to be in the Snapple Bowl.”
All proceeds from the event, which has raised more than $485,000 since its inception in 1994, benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and the Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.
Cassidy, who cheered in the game as a high school senior in 2008 and began coaching in the Snapple Bowl four years later, constantly reminds her charges for whom the game is being contested.
“We bring it up daily,” Cassidy said of the Middlesex County squad’s pending visit to the Lakeview School, which will take place on Monday. “We talk about the experience, how life-changing it is.”
The cheerleaders are traditionally the focal point of the Lakeview School visit, literally taking center stage in the multi-purpose room, where students and their teachers gather for an annual pep rally, which takes place after the Middlesex County All-Stars interact with students in their classrooms.
After spending the majority of practices early in the week on the halftime routine, the Middlesex cheerleaders have started to shift their focus to chants while still fine-tuning the former. The cheerleaders will have a full repertoire of offensive, defensive and anytime chants before the opening kickoff.
“The beginning of the week is more challenging,” Cassidy said. “We try to finish our halftime (routine) as much as we can and as well as possible.”
Each high school coach is asked to complete a registration form highlighting their cheerleader’s tumbling experience, “so we already have an idea coming in how much time we need to devote to the tumbling portion (of the halftime routine), what we can highlight and what we need to choreograph differently,” Meyers said.
“We end up seeing girls who are able to pick up material very quickly,” Meyers said. “They have great technique already coming in.
“They all have experience in terms of performing, so it’s really just merging their (differences) into one cohesive unit.”
MIDDLESEX COUNTY ALL-STAR CHEERLEADERS
Titilayo Agbabiaka (Bishop Ahr), Nicolette Aloia (North Brunswick), Nicole Amato (South Brunswick), Kalena Anderson (Dunellen), Meghan Anthony (Old Bridge), Jackie Baird (Monroe), Alyssa Barry (South River), Nicole Berg (Spotswood), Wiktoria Blazajowicz (South Plainfield), Jennifer Carfagno (Woodbridge), Sissi Chen (Highland Park), Kayla Coleman (J.F. Kennedy), Kelsi Conahan (Spotswood), Denee Corbin (New Brunswick), Alexis Danzy (Piscataway), Ashley Ellis (Colonia), Danajah Fleming (Sayreville), Alex Germann (Sayreville), Shayna Hodge (South Plainfield), Samantha Hoffman (Metuchen), Tiara Howard (New Brunswick), Jenna Juarez (Bishop Ahr), Caitlyn Kelly (Carteret), Sabrina Leff (Cardinal McCarrick), Amanda Leon (Perth Amboy), Emily Menendez (Colonia), Kerry Morris (Old Bridge), Maddie Owens (South Brunswick), Rebeccah Piper (Perth Amboy), Ines Protasio (Edison), Alexandria Quigley (Monroe), Haley Resch (Middlesex), Tiana Ruiz (Dunellen), Nicole Shaffery (East Brunswick), Nadia Smith (Piscataway), Samantha Staggard (J.F. Kennedy), Hailley Stender (Middlesex), Heather Szoke (Woodbridge), Sydney Teitelbaum (J.P. Stevens), Amber Torres (Carteret), Amanda Tur (South River), Katelyn Williams (Metuchen), Khiara Winchester (J.P. Stevens), Taylorann Winkler (North Brunswick), Kirsten Yascko (Edison).
What: MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII, New Jersey’s most successful charity all-star football game
Where: Kean University’s Alumni Stadium, Union
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 16
Participants: Recently graduated high school senior players and cheerleaders from Middlesex and Union counties.
About the event
Beneficiaries: All proceeds from the game, which has raised more than $485,000 since its inception, benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and the Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.
Practice venues: Colonia High School (Middlesex County All-Stars) and Union High School (Union County All-Stars).
Key dates: Middlesex County All-Stars visit the Lakeview School in Edison and Union County All-Stars visit Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside on July 13; Snapple Bowl banquet at Pines Manor restaurant in Edison July 15.
Tickets: Can be purchased at the gate for $10.
Previewing the game: Leading up to Snapple Bowl XXII, the Home News Tribune, Courier News and MyCentralJersey.com will feature at least one story daily, as well as videos.
Game coverage: Look for a game story, a notebook, a Middlesex County sidebar, a Union County sidebar, an A1 story, a photo gallery and video highlights from Snapple Bowl XXII in the Home News Tribune, Courier News and at MyCentralJersey.com.
Social media: Follow us via Twitter @MyCJ_Sports and @SnappleBowl for updates and to interact with reporters and Snapple Bowl XXII game director Marcus Borden.
MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII official web site: Can be found at https://worknotes.com/NJ/SouthRiver/SnappleBowl/