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A reason to cheer: Local high school squad makes history

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The George Washington High School Cheerleaders have a lot in common with the namesake of their school.

Their namesake made history as the first president of a newly formed United States and the 2022-23 Competitive Cheer Team has now become the first members of the School District of Philadelphia to be invited to perform in the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) High School Nationals. This is one of the biggest high school cheer competitions in the world and a deserved outcome for a squad that is the three-time reigning Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District XII Public League Champions in the Co-Ed Division and five-time Competitive Spirit State Qualifiers. The Competitive Cheer Team also made history as the first team from the district to be named PIAA state semifinalists in the Co-Ed Division.

Since forming in 2016-17, the George Washington High School Cheerleaders have been successful. Under the coaching of Michele Socki and Veronica Hayes, they started by winning third place in the District XII Public League Division. Since then, it has been a whirlwind of success – and hard times.

Through a worldwide pandemic, the Competitive Cheer Team stayed alive with the help of a local community center that allowed the team to practice, masked up, of course, in hopes of keeping sharp and ready for competition. While other schools in these competitions have professional choreographers, wardrobe staff, and coaches dedicated only to the performances, Socki and Hayes do this out of pure joy. This is not their full-time position. Both are teachers at George Washington High School. Socki is a special education teacher who is also in charge of the senior class, the Peer Group Connection Program, is the Yearbook Advisor, and Graduation Coordinator, while Hayes is a physical education and health teacher as well as the Junior Class Sponsor.

Other schools may have greater resources, but George Washington has the passion.

"This opportunity isn't about just setting it up for George Washington, it's about setting up the opportunity for all teams in the Philadelphia Public League to be able to go," Socki said. "We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support both financially and motivationally from the entire city. The exposure our school has received has benefited us and our entire school community immensely. Unfortunately, in our city, you normally only hear about all the negative events that occur and this was an opportunity to spread some positives for not only our school, but our district and the entire city."

The success of the Competitive Cheer Team has had a ripple effect on the rest of the school community.

"I believe that all of our athletic teams and clubs strive to win, while also providing our students with a collaborative experience filled with love and respect," said Socki, a 1999 graduate of George Washington. "I think the success and media attention we have gotten has inspired our team to do better overall in the classroom and inspire the community. We have gone to outreach events at local elementary schools and the students are looked at as role models to the younger generations. We hope we can inspire others to be leaders, act positive, and promote school spirit."

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With all of the wonderful opportunities this recognition has given the school and the team, one more accolade comes on January 1, 2023, when the George Washington High School Cheerleaders will get to perform with the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders on the field at halftime of the game against the New Orleans Saints. Many people want to be on the field. But the George Washington High School Cheerleaders – whose mascot also happens to be the Eagles – through dedication and hard work, will become some of the honored few with the ability to do so.

"Our team is so excited to perform on New Year's Day! It's like a dream come true and a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Socki said. "We are honored to perform with the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders and showcase our skills for the greatest sports fans out there."

"It has been inspirational to see the talented George Washington High School Cheerleaders earn the opportunity to represent the passion and determination of our city on a national stage and make history in the process," said Eagles Cheerleader Chrissy. "As a former competitive cheerleader and gymnast, I know firsthand the tireless work ethic involved in achieving such success. My teammates and I are looking forward to performing alongside these gifted athletes at Lincoln Financial Field during the Saints vs. Eagles game, as a celebration of their tremendous accomplishment."

The NCA High School Nationals are held January 21-22 in Dallas.

"We are excited for the days ahead and we will compete to the best of our abilities no matter where we place at NCA Nationals," Socki said. "This experience is something our students will forever remember, especially being the first-ever team in the Philadelphia Public League to compete on this level. Many of our students have never left the Philadelphia area and now we are taking them halfway across the country to do something never experienced by our district's cheerleading teams. We are the only team from Philadelphia competing in this national circuit event and we are proud to represent George Washington High School, The School District of Philadelphia, and the amazing City of Philadelphia."

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