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West High cheerleaders
Meghan Keeley and the West High cheerleaders practice their routine.

The West High cheerleading squad will be spending New Year’s Day with 83,500 screaming college football fans.

Organizers of the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., last year invited the West High cheer squad to be one of its performing groups for its halftime show after the cheerleaders took home first place trophies in a 2007 national cheer competition in Florida.

It’ll be the biggest stage on which the cheer squad has ever performed.

“It’s more than just a halftime show,” said Ashtyn Grove, a sophomore on the squad.

Mariko Trudell, the squad’s coach, believes the trip to Jacksonville and the experience of performing at a nationally televised event will be an important learning experience for the girls. As members of a cheer squad for one of the bigger high schools in the state, the girls don’t get many opportunities to see other big schools and big teams perform, she said.

“I’m hoping it exposes them to more cheer and more dance,” Trudell said. “It gives them an idea of what cheer can be like.”

It also gives them monumental exposure.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Trudell said. “I want my girls to shine”

At a practice last week, West cheerleaders ran through their routine, working on trouble spots and trying not to giggle when someone messed up.

“I’m pretty excited,” said Courtney Zundel, a junior on the squad.

Gator Bowl organizers gave West a tape of the routine they wanted performed, and the girls have been working on it bit by bit since the school year began. Trudell said bowl organizers tried to get a squad from each state to perform for the show.

Playing in the game will be West Virginia and Florida State in what will be FSU’s legendary head coach Bobby Bowden’s final game.

West’s cheer squad flew out to Jacksonville the day after Christmas and has spent the week practicing the routine, meeting with other squads and marching in parades. To get there, each girl raised $2,000.

“The community was a huge help to us,” Trudell said.

The game begins at 3 p.m. Mountain Time and will be broadcast on CBS. The halftime show probably won’t be televised. During that time, broadcasters tend to cut away to their studios where commentators talk about the game and other sports action happening that day.

Regardless, the squad is excited for their chance to perform in front of a capacity crowd at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

“These girls are good,” Trudell said. “They deserve to go down there.”

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or at 406-657-1231.

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