Maddie Howard, captain of the cheer squad, wants students to be part of the solution to bullying, not the problem.
Howard, a senior at Fort Zumwalt North, has teamed up with her squad to host Cheer UP!, a high school cheerleading competition designed to raise awareness surrounding the issues of bullying and teen suicide. The event will take place from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Nov. 5 at Fort Zumwalt North High School.
The event is open to the public, and the admission fee is $5 at the door.
In addition to being a full-fledged cheer competition, the event boasts keynote speaker Tina Meier of the Megan Meier Foundation.
In 2006, Tina's daughter Megan hanged herself after receiving cruel messages on the social networking site Myspace.
Tina will share Megan’s story and ask the girls to confront the issues of bullying head on.
“Her (Meier’s) story is so powerful. It is important to get that message out,” Howard said.
Beyond raising awareness, the squad has a goal of raising $5,000 to be distributed to three suicide and bullying prevention groups: The Jake Sebestyen Memorial Scholarship Fund, CHADD and the Megan Meier Foundation.
Shaken by two teen suicides at Zumwalt North in 2009, Howard decided that she wanted to make a difference. She realized that as a cheerleader, she was part of a group that could make that difference. Often, she said, cheerleaders are stereotyped as the “mean girls,” who are part of the bullying problem.
“Why do kids do this to each other?” she asked herself.
Through the competition, Howard hopes to spread and reinforce the message to other cheerleaders that they do not have to be the mean girls. Cheerleaders can and should be seen as school leaders, people other kids can come to in times of need.
“We need to cheer people up, not tear them down,” she said.
Howard said it is important for all kids to understand that often, just talking to somebody can brighten their day, and sometimes that changes their life.
She hopes that the cheerleaders will leave the competition with an inspirational message they can take with them and use the rest of their lives.
“Our goal is to inspire them and us to be true leaders, not just cheerleaders, in our schools and communities,” Howard wrote in an essay.
Additionally, the cheer competition will afford the girls an opportunity to compete.
The competition portion of the day will include events for several divisions: Freshman, Junior Varsity, Varsity and Elite. Susan Howard, Maddie’s mom, said the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) is sending staff to assist with the day and act as judges. Other judges include a college cheerleader and a high school cheer coach.
Squads can compete in the small (less than 12 squad members) or large (more than 12 squad members) division. Prizes will be given for first, second and third place, depending on the number of teams in each division. Additional awards will be given for Best Stunts, Best Dance, Best Motions, Most Spirited and the Panther Pride Award. The Panther Pride Award will be awarded to the individual who displays the most spirit, leadership and excellence during the competition.
Susan Howard said that at this point, five schools have committed to send squads. The Zumwalt North squad is hoping to attract at least 10 schools, with the possibility of hosting up to 20 schools. While invitations have been sent, any cheer team wishing to compete can contact coach Jackie Hastings at email@example.com or the activities office at Zumwalt North High School.
Entrance fees for the event are $150 for small teams and $250 for large teams. All proceeds will go to support the three organizations.
Both Susan and Maddie Howard stressed how cooperative Zumwalt North has been ever since Maddie took her proposal to her cheer coach and the school’s administration last spring. The administration, in turn, was quick to gain approval for the competition from the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
The Zumwalt North Varsity Cheer squad is currently looking for financial sponsors for the event. All 22 members are committed to gaining support from at least two businesses.