It has been 20 years since Gina Santangelo represented Union County as a cheerleader in the Snapple Bowl, but for her it feels like just yesterday.
It seems as though fate stepped in to give her a chance to relive that experience during Snapple Bowl XXII, which will take place at Kean University on July 16 at 7 p.m., through her daughter, Caitlin Gibson, who was asked to do the same. With over 2 decades of history behind it, the game will undoubtably offer the opportunity to recall fond memories for many attendees.
“When she told me she was asked to cheer in the game I was happy and I couldn’t believe it, but what was really even weirder was that it’s twenty years to the year that I cheered in it,” Santangelo said.
Gibson is a member of the Roselle Park High School cheerleading team, where she was recently named captain for the 2015-2016 season, her senior year.
For her, cheering in the midsummer all-star game is a source of validation and a chance to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“I was really excited (upon being asked) because I’ve been cheering for so long, about 13 years, so to be able to keep doing it and get to cheer in the Snapple Bowl, especially since my mom cheered in it too, it just felt really good,” Gibson said.
All proceeds from the Snapple Bowl, which pits the top graduating football players from Middlesex County against counterparts from Union County, benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and the Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.
Santangelo sees the job of a cheerleader as motivating the fans and the team with positive energy, regardless of score deficit or how impossible a game may look, to keep the players focused to try to power through to a victory. She believes that the children at both the hospital and the school need the same kind of support in their lives.
The aspect of the bowl that stuck out most in her mind was the visit that the players and the cheerleaders paid to the hospital.
“I felt privileged, it was an amazing experience; being able to go see all those children was something I will never forget,” Santangelo said. “The children look up to these Snapple Bowl players, they see them as role models and to see the smiles on their faces was something so special.”
Since its inception in 1994, the game has raised more than $485,000.
Gibson is excited for the opportunity to give back to a good cause especially because her career aspiration is to be a pediatric nurse at a specialized hospital.
“I’m really looking forward to visiting the children at the hospital because I want to pursue that as a career when I get older so I think it will be a really positive experience for me,” Gibson said. “I’m hoping that we can show the kids that anything is possible and you can always push through anything you need to and to help them to keep fighting through it no matter what.”
As for Santangelo, she can’t wait until game day.
“I still have my T-shirt from the 1995 Snapple Bowl so I’ll be sporting that Thursday,” she said. “I’ll probably cry watching her and honestly I’m going to want to get out there and do it again myself.”
UNION COUNTY ALL-STAR CHEERLEADERS
Karema Abdul-Razzaq (Roselle), Kayla Abella (Cranford), Brianna Armstead (Linden), Alexis Bell (Roselle), Amanda Bencivenga (Cranford), Nykia Brooks (Roselle), Wynterr Brown (Rahway), Megan Campbell (Dayton), Brianna Cesaro (David Brearley), Alexis Ciccone (A.L. Johnson), Jessica DeFranco (Governor Livingston), Bianca DeMaria (Scotch Plains-Fanwood), Kayla DeNunzio (David Brearley), Rebecca Egner (A.L. Johnson), Alexis Ellis Ortiz (Rahway), Kyla Fuller (Plainfield), Victoria Gargiulo (Cranford), Maria Gerckens (Westfield), Caitlin Gibson (Roselle Park), Alexandra Grady (A.L. Johnson), Alyamise Hankins (Elizabeth), Raenelle Hodge (Elizabeth), Deja Marshall (Linden), Asyrra McCoggle (Rahway), Toni McCrae (Hillside), Jala Mickens (Linden), Kate O’Hara (Governor Livingston), Bernice Onanuga (Union), Ariana Rodriguez (Cranford), Maria Ruiz (Cranford), Sami Smith (David Brearley), Samantha Smith (Westfield), Olivia Sot (Governor Livingston), Imani Stafford (Hillside), Danielle Stewart (Dayton), Brianna Torres (A.L. Johnson), Monique Totana (Union), Bella Velez (Scotch Plains-Fanwood), Kristen Vrabel (Roselle Park), Skyler Williams (Governor Livingston).
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/