When Alicia Schrank, cheer coach at Liberty High School in Bealeton, had the idea to submit an audition tape for her team to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, she had no master plan. Her decision was spur-of-the-moment. She did so quietly, telling no one, not even Katie Waddle, fellow cheer coach and longtime friend.
A year ago, the team was riding high after finishing third at the Class 4 Virginia High School League Competition Cheer State Championship in Richmond. Around then, Schrank read an article about a student cheerleader who performed in the iconic parade.
After some quick research, she realized that to apply, she only needed to fill out a few forms and submit a team video. “I put together our two-minute clip, sent it off, and honestly forgot about it,” Schrank says.
In February, Schrank received an email that said: “Congratulations, you’ve been invited to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.” She immediately phoned Waddle. “I must have called her 100 times before she picked up,” Schrank says.
Schrank and Waddle have been friends since kindergarten. They cheered together as students at Liberty, and after graduating college, both returned to teach there. Their friendship is so in sync that they often finish each other’s sentences. “We have the same brain,” Waddle jokes, prompting a student to chime in, “Yeah, it’s kind of weird.”
Once Waddle found out, she immediately thought of the practical aspect: how to pay for 15 cheerleaders to go to New York.
“It’s around $3,500 per athlete,” Waddle says. That’s roughly $60,000 for the coaches and team. So they turned to the community for financial support, and the response was overwhelming. “We’ve had some really, really generous individuals step up,” Waddle says.
Kaylen Ulloa, a 17-year-old Liberty senior, was the first cheerleader to learn about the invite. “It was a shock,” Ulloa says, admitting she lost focus on the basketball game she was warming up for.
“Everyone sees the Macy’s parade, but it just seems out of reach for just a normal, everyday person. Then hearing that you are in it just sounds unreal,” says cheerleader Ashlyn Leatherwood, 17, who, along with Kaydance Wren, 17, found out via text message while in class.
The cheerleaders will be among an elite group performing with Spirit of America Productions. Of the nearly 144,000 high school cheerleaders in the U.S., the organization said only 550 receive an invitation to perform.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade draws almost 3 million spectators annually to midtown Manhattan, with another 50 million watching on TV.
“We’re so proud to coach them for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Waddle says.
Feature image of Liberty High cheer team at the VHSL Competition Cheer State Competition in 2022, courtesy Alicia Schrank