2 Riverview cheerleaders to step onto national stage

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 10:43 a.m.

While the smell of turkey starts to spread through many Alle-Kiski Valley homes on Thanksgiving, two Riverview High School cheerleaders will be readying to help entertain millions of Americans.

On Nov. 28, Madison Long and Briana Gonnella, both 17, will be among about 10,000 people who will participate in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Madison and Briana, who are co-captains for the Riverview squad, will be part of Spirit of America — a cheerleading squad made up of more than 1,000 senior cheerleaders from around the country.

The girls, who qualified for the opportunity to be in the parade at a summer cheerleading camp at Slippery Rock University, will do a dance routine with the other Spirit of America members.

“We even get to perform on ‘Good Morning America,' ” Briana said excitedly. “It's going to be right on the giant Macy's star.”

The trip will be a mixture of fun, work and nervousness, the girls said.

“We leave Friday in the middle of the night and have to hail our own cab when we get to New York,” Madison said.

Once in New York, the girls will have to be early risers, getting up every day at 6 a.m., although staying in the New York Hilton — in Midtown Manhattan — should somewhat ease the pain of the early wake-up calls.

“They posted three different parts to the dance online, and we have to learn each part,” Madison said. “We don't find out which part we have to do until we get there.

“It's been a lot of practicing already,” she added. “It's been nerve-wracking, but it's worth it to be able to perform for everyone and to bring home lots of fun things.”

It won't be all work for the girls while they're in the Big Apple, though.

“We get to go to a Broadway show, a boat tour of the Statue of Liberty,” Briana said. “And, I'm going to be celebrating my 18th birthday there (Wednesday).”

The girls said their families are going to arrive in New York the night before Thanksgiving. They plan to have Thanksgiving dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Essential fundraising

Riverview cheerleading coach Katie O'Donnell said the five-month process of getting the girls to New York was a whirlwind of fundraising.

“It cost about $4,000 to send them,” said O'Donnell, who coaches the squad with her mother, Mary Lynne O'Donnell. “Our whole senior and junior high squads helped raise the money.”

O'Donnell said the girls were able to attend because of how well the squad performed at the Slippery Rock camp.

“We won ‘top banana,' which is best overall squad,” she said. “Just to get to that camp, the squad had to raise $4,000.”

The summer and fall were filled with bake sales, car washes, yard sales, and ‘tagging' days.

“(On) Tagging days, we'd stand outside of business and hand people water bottles and say, ‘Help send us to the Macy's parade,' ” Madison said. “Our parents helped us so much.”

Madison's parents are Curt and Christine Long, and Briana's are Sue Just and Leonard Gonnella.

Both girls said they were humbled not only by the support they have received from their families, but also teammates, administrators.

“Our whole squad pushed us to go,” Briana said. High school Principal Jay Moser “was behind us from the beginning.

“Everyone's so excited we got this opportunity.”

The girls recalled the euphoria when they finally reached their fundraising goal.

“It was just pure excitement,” Madison said. “Who gets to say they performed at the Thanksgiving Day Parade?”

Briana knew the answer to that rhetorical question.

“We do,” she said.

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer.

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