Thanksgiving in the islands

It was Thanksgiving in paradise for a pair of Whitehall varsity cheerleaders this year.

Senior cheerleader Shelby Cuomo and sophomore Katie Paddock spent their Thanksgiving in Hawaii, participating in a cheerleading group that included girls from throughout the United States.

“It was a lot of fun and it was really warm,” said Cuomo. “The girls were all nice that were in the routine.”

“There were 52 girls, and we have a lot of new friends from Oklahoma and Texas,” said Paddock.

The duo left for Hawaii on Tuesday, Nov. 25 and returned to the mainland on Monday, Dec. 1. The group was featured at halftime of the Aloha Bowl on Nov. 29, a college football game between the Washington State Cougars and the University of Hawaii Warriors.

“U-of-H is a really big thing out there because there are no professional teams in Hawaii,” said Paddock. “There were big ceremonies before the game and it was a fantastic arena.”

“It was exciting to cheer at a big event like that,” said Cuomo. “It was a lot of fun.”

As part of the Hawaii tradition, Cuomo said that they were able to see the Warriors perform the traditional Ha-ka before the game, a Tongan war dance.

“We didn’t get to learn that, but we watched the team before the game,” she said.

Paddock said that the halftime performance was also very memorable.

“It was exciting to perform with a live college band,” she said. “It was nerve-racking at first, but the program began and we had fun with it.”

The girls were able to practice the routine before they went to Hawaii, and were surprised that most of the girls they met were from towns similar to Whitehall.

“We got the tape of the performance a couple of weeks before,” said Cuomo. “We had four hours of practice every day while we were out there.”

“There were a lot more stunts and a lot of tumbling compared to what we do here,” said Paddock. “But with a small amount of people, it was really easy to learn. All of the girls were the same there. We were all from small schools and small towns.”

Cuomo and Paddock were two of the few from the northeastern past of the United States.

“We were the only ones from New York,” said Paddock. “There was somebody there from Pennsylvania, but that was about it.”

The duo made the Hawaii trip through their team and individual performances at the University of Massachusetts cheer camp during the summer.

“Our team won the game day cheer trophy,” said Cuomo, who was also chosen for the Hawaii trip as an All-American, her second straight year earning the honor. Cuomo did not go to last year’s bowl game because she opted to go to Costa Rica with the school’s Environmental Science Club.

“Everyone on the team had the chance to go, and I chose to go with Shelby,” said Paddock.

Along with cheering at the bowl game, the duo also had a chance to experience the culture of the islands.

“It was so weird to know that you are still in the United States,” said Cuomo. “We learned how to surf out there and went to a luau thing for Thanksgiving dinner where they had hula dancers.”

Paddock was quick to add that there was also a local dancer at the event.

“My dad got up and hula-ed on stage.”

Both students agreed that a return trip to the islands was a goal.

“I would love to go back there and go to college, but I would just stay on the beach all day,” Cuomo said.

“The plane ride was tough, but I want to move there,” said Paddock.

For Cuomo, the event was a chance to see what cheerleading in college may include, something that she hopes she will be able to do next fall.

“From watching the whole U-of-H cheer squad, I might want to look at joining a dance team,” said Cuomo. “I would like to keep cheering some way in college. I am looking at Union College right now because of their law program.”

For Paddock, she felt that things the group did in Hawaii could be used next year with the Whitehall varsity football cheerleaders.

“There were a lot of parts that would be good for us,” she said.

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