DANCING IN THE STREETS OF NEW YORK

December 18, 2002 12:00 am
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Pilot story by Bill Schlichting

Photos courtesy of Melissa Mattos and Crissy Cooper

It was a dream come true for two Brookings-Harbor High School cheerleaders who joined 636 others from throughout the United States to participate in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Crissy Cooper, a senior, and Melissa Mattos, a junior, were selected to be members of the National All Star Team by the Universal Cheerleading Association. The team performed in the parade, which involves 43 blocks of walking and performing in front of millions of people.

"It was a reward for our efforts for being captains," Mattos said.

It took more than being captains of the cheerleading squad to be selected to wear the Macy's uniform.

Representatives from the association, an association dedicated, in part, to recruiting the finest cheerleaders in the country for special performances at home and abroad, spent time with Brookings-Harbor High School's dance and spirit team during a training camp in August.

The athletic abilities and talents of Mattos and Cooper captured the attention of the association representatives and the pair were invited to become members of the team.

Once accepted, all they had to do was raise $2,521 each, not including any shopping expenses.

"We did more sightseeing than shopping," Cooper said about their stay in the city. Both admit they didn't have time for shopping.

Not only were the girls busy when they got to New York, they were busy raising the funds to get there.

They sought donations from Brookings businesses, had bottle drives and received help from family members, Mattos said.

After they arrived Nov. 22, they spent three hours rehearsing the dance routine on the first night the team was together, another seven hours the second day and all day the third. However, the third day included time off to shop or sightsee, the girls said.

One of the rehearsals was outdoors in Hoboken, N.J.

"We thought it was going to be a big thing, but it was a broken down bus parking lot," Cooper said.

But not all the outdoor practices were in lousy locations, the girls said.

"We practiced in Herald Square in front of Macy's," Mattos said. "This is where we performed in the parade."

Practicing for the parade also involved walking four miles each, they said.

When they did have time to be tourists, they were treated to a Radio City Rockettes show, seeing the Broadway play "Beauty and the Beast," touring New York Harbor including the Statue of Liberty and visiting Times Square.

One memorable treat was overlooking the lights of the city from the observation deck on the top of the Empire State Building.

"We walked five miles to the Empire State Building," Cooper said. After that walk, though, they took the subway back to the hotel.

On parade day the team started at 77th Street. The temperature was 21 degrees and all the girls were in skirts, Mattos said.

"My hands were frozen," Cooper said.

Plus, rehearsals were so tedious, they admit they weren't looking forward to the parade. Plus the waiting seemed forever as they sat on the curb with their sweater over their knees to keep warm.

But after so much walking to the end of the parade route at 34th Street, their legs were warm, and they by this time realized they enjoyed the parade.

During the march, they would "Hi Five" little girls who thought it was such a great thing, Cooper said.

One highlight of the parade was when a CNN cameraman asked the girls if they wanted to be on TV. They accepted the offer and waved for the camera, Cooper said.

After the parade the girls went back to the hotel and crashed for an hour. Even though they didn't feel tired because of the high adrenaline, Cooper said she was out as soon as she laid down.

Even though they slept an hour, they said New York is the city that never sleeps. Although their hotel room was on the 19th floor, taxi driver's honking at 6 a.m. provided a wake-up call.

Once the event was over and the touring around New York City was behind them, Mattos went along with Cooper to visit her aunt and uncle in Albany, the state's capital.

There the girls did some sledding in the snow and finally visited a mall for some serious shopping.

After a stay there, the girls went to see Coopers grandparents and another uncle in Watertown, N.Y., near the Canadian border.

Mattos said she enjoyed visiting Coopers relatives because they treated her like family. In fact, there were plans to stay another week in Watertown, but they were getting homesick, plus it was 19 below zero.

Back in New York City to return home, the girls said they had trouble with the plane at LaGuardia Airport. Cooper said her dad did not want the girls on that flight, so they took another flight from JFK. This was fun for the girls because, they said, they got to ride in a Lincoln taxi to the other airport.

Being back in Brookings has been easier for the girls, although they find they have to tell everybody how their trip went.

"I can't walk down the hallway (at the high school) without telling the story of the trip," Cooper said.