Additional information has been inserted into this post. According to Robin Kelner of Paragon Marketing, which owns and operates the DICK’s Nationals tournament, the Wheeler band, cheerleaders and affiliated chaperones were all allowed free entrance to the tournament, and were seated together in a designated Wheeler section. The Wheeler band director reportedly was pleased with the tournament’s help, and Paragon is very happy to welcome any bands or cheerleading groups to the event to add the atmosphere described here and in our earlier story on Wheeler’s contingent.
Remember the Wheeler High School cheerleaders and band? Of course you do. If you followed any of the USA TODAY High School Sports coverage of the DICK’S Nationals tournament, they stood out for a star turn because, well, they’re a bunch of stars. The band was awesome, the cheerleaders were awesome and they provided some much needed respite for those weary of the rather repeatable TV timeouts and generally generic atmosphere that evolves from an event filled with basketball-focused prep programs. The heavy dose of Americana was a welcome respite, and a high quality one.
As it turns out, the story is an even better heart-warmer than we imagined. As flagged to USA TODAY High School Sports by Ann Gunby, the President of the Wheeler Band Booster, the Wildcat band and cheer squads fundraised their own way to New York. The two teams got together and started a GoFundMe drive aimed at $8,000 to defray the cost of up to $20,000, which would have covered the cost for a bus from Georgia to New York (which requires a roughly 14-hour trip on the road, for what it’s worth), a two-night hotel stay and tickets to three games. Yes, the band and cheerleaders were expected to pay their own way into the contests.
This is an apt time to note a couple key factors: 1) Wheeler fell in its opening round game against Huntington Prep, ending the trip before those three tickets and two nights would be needed, and 2) REALLY? DICK’S officials, or the fine folks from Paragon Marketing, didn’t offer up free tickets to the band and cheerleaders? We hope that’s not the case, but if it is, well, shame on them.
The Wheeler band and cheer squads remain a distinct highlight from the entire DICK’s week. They should be rewarded for their commitment, their ingenuity and their terrific spirit, all of which transformed a Queens gym for a few short hours. If only it had been a few more.