CONWAY The Sonshine Academy Cheer Force Falcons have done something no cheerleading team in Conway has ever done - earned a bid to The Cheerleading Worlds competition in Orlando, Fla.
“It’s been two years since Arkansas sent a team, and we’ve never had a team from Conway get a bid,” said Elsie Rose Wright, co-owner of Sonshine Academy. “It’s really a culmination of years of hard work.”
The Cheerleading Worlds competition will be April 25-30 at Walt Disney World Resort.
The 16-member, co-ed cheerleading squad is a Level 5, which is for students ages 13-18. Only Level 5 and Level 6, which are college-age cheerleaders, are eligible to go to the world competition.
Wright said it was a “huge emotional roller coaster” when the Conway team earned the invitation earlier this month at a cheerleading event in New Orleans.
It was a two-day competition, and some “squirrelly things” happened, Wright said.
For example, a bid was inadvertently given to an ineligible squad. The Conway cheerleaders didn’t know that at the time and thought all bids had been given out.
They were heartbroken, Wright said.
However, an adjustment was made, and the Falcons had scored high enough to receive an at-largebid to go to the world competition. Cheerleaders from a Little Rock gym also received a bid to the competition, Wright said.
She said the invitation is a testimony to the incredible coaches the Falcons have had throughout the years.
Sarah Marsh, who, with Erik Wright, coaches the Falcons, said the team performed clean routines both days of the competition.
“It was maybe the first competition we’ve had allyear that they hit the routine really good both days,” Marsh said. “A Conway team has never gone. Only one other gym in Arkansas has ever been, and it’s in Little Rock, so it’s a really big deal.
“We were obviously not sure if we were going to get [a bid] or not, but we were in the awards ceremony where they were getting ready to announce everything, and the kids were going crazy. Some were about to cry; some were scared.”
When Conway was announced, “they immediately fell to the ground and were hugging each other,” Marsh said.
“It really is just amazing and just so rewarding. They’ve worked hard all year, and someof those kids have been with us for a really long time. I started coaching about nine years ago, and I have some kids that started at the same time. Some of these kids on the squad, I feel like I raised them,” Marsh said, laughing.
One of those is Sarah Jo Wright, a senior at Conway Christian High School and the daughter of Sonshine Academy owners Elsie Rose and Scott Wright.
“Sarah Marsh has been my cheer coach pretty much all the through since fifth grade,” Sarah Jo said.
“We would not be anywhere without our coaches. They have poured so much into us this year, and all the years before they were preparing us for this moment.”
She said getting the world bid is a dream come true.
“Oh, my word; it was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had,” Sarah Jo said. “We have been working so hard for that day.
“Before, we knew it was out of reach, but this year we knew we had a chance. We’ve improved so much this year, so we were really excited about it.”
The Cheerleading Worldscompetition is “the top of the top,” Marsh said. “It’s where you aspire to be - you hope to get there someday, but you’re not sure if you will.
“Most cheer competitions, you just enter and pay, and you can go to the competition. This is the only one you have to be invited to attend, and qualify.”
More information about the competition can be found at www.usasf.net.
The trip will cost $20,000 for the team to fly to Disney World and stay five nights, Elsie Rose Wright said. Fundraisers willbe held to help the team make the trip.
She said the Conway team is under no illusion that it will win the world competition.
“I would love to say that is possible, but I can’t,” she said. “We don’t live in a metroplex like Dallas. Some places will have 1,500 come try out for their team. We’d have to have 100,000 more people here in Conway, or 10 more years to start the program.”
Sarah Jo said the team is realistic.
“Our goal is to go and belong at world - to prove that we are meant to be there,” she said.
In addition to Sarah Jo, the Falcons squad includes Thomas Bradley, Preston Dunn, Emily Fahr, Katy Furnell, Skylar Hatfield, Christina Johnson, Diamond Kelley, Travis Kennedy, Khayla McKay, Elise Moix, Kelsie Roland, Emile Shaw, Jenny Walker, Allison Weatherly, Parker Weatherly and Collin Weatherly.
Elsie Rose Wright said the Falcons also work with Sonshine Academy’s special-needs team.
“As exciting as this was, I’m never more proud of them as when they step on this floor with those kids in the wheelchairs and the walkers,” she said. “It’s the best and bright and most-talented giving their time,energy and talent, and they do it voluntarily.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.