WHITLEY COUNTY — The Whitley County Dazzlers, a special needs cheerleading squad, recently launched a Facebook fundraising campaign to cover costs so that its members can attend nationals on April 21 in Florida. Coach Vanessa Bills noted the cheerleaders, who range from 6 to 24 years of age, are excited about the trip, adding “Because there are often special medical needs involved, they don’t always get to go on a vacation, so to go away for two days is big.”
Whitley County Dazzlers started in 2011 with the mission “to provide a fun atmosphere to children with special needs, while teaching cheerleading skills.” And while based in Whitley County, cheerleaders come from all over the northern Indiana area, including from Warsaw Community Schools, Whitko Community Schools, Churubusco/Smith-Green Community Schools, Homestead Senior High School, Carroll Consolidated School Corporation, Whitley County Consolidated Schools and Lakeland Christian Academy.
In the past six years, cheerleaders have gone to national events hosted by different organizations in a variety of locations, including Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. Last year they won nationals when it was hosted in Kentucky.
“Florida will be the farthest,” Bills said, sharing that the cheer team was pretty vocal about wanting to go to a contest in Florida.
“There’s a lot of team-building and developing social skills as we travel on a bus in close quarters. They become closer friends,” Bills said of the trips to Nationals. And of course, “they like to compete in front of people.”
She noted the trip to nationals is also a great networking opportunity for the parents who can share information about doctors and services that they have found to be beneficial.
Beyond nationals, the Dazzlers make appearances at other cheerleading competitions and give performances at events like basketball and football games for both the University of Saint Francis and Huntington University. They have even performed at an Indiana Pacers’ game. Bills noted from November to spring they try to fit in one competition or performance per month.
Dazzlers put a lot of work into their routine, which is over two minutes in length and incorporates cheers, dancing, jumps and more. Cheerleaders practice once a week to get the routine just right.
In total there are 21 Dazzlers, all of whom are expected to travel to nationals. Additionally, there are 10 volunteers — ranging from middle school, high school and college students to adults — who help out at practices and during competitions and performance.
For those interested in supporting the Dazzlers, donations can be made either through the Facebook fundraiser — https://www.facebook.com/donate/159984788023879/2106551969361132/ — or by sending a check to the Community Foundation of Whitley County, 400 N. Whitley St., Columbia City, IN 46725. If sending a check, be sure to put “Dazzlers” in the memo line.
For more information, “like” the Whitley County Dazzlers on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/WCDazzlers/.