By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Having been on the varsity squad as a freshman last year, McAlester cheerleader Allison Merrifield has already made some great memories. Cheer camps, Friday night football games, regional and state competitions — all experiences Merrifield is sure to cherish.
But all those experiences might get topped Wednesday, when Merrifield marches in the London New Year’s Day Parade.
Merrifield, a 15-year-old sophomore on the junior varsity squad this year, will be one of 500 cheerleaders and dancers selected by Varsity, the parent organization of groups such as the Universal Cheerleaders Association, the Universal Dance Association and the National Dance Alliance. Merrifield became eligible for the parade by being named an All American at a UCA cheer camp in which the Lady Buffs participated in June at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
“It was pretty tiring, the hot weather,” Merrifield said of the camp Thursday.
“I was pretty happy. I was the only one that made it on JV.”
Once Merrifield earned All American status and sent in the appropriate forms, she said, she had to raise the $3,500 fee for the parade. Donna Haynes, Merrifield’s mother, said Merrifield raised the money through “a lot of dedication.”
That dedication included working at Braum’s and cleaning offices on the side. Merrifield also ran a very successful “traveling flamingos” fundraiser in which inflatable pink flamingos were placed on people’s lawns, then people paid to have them moved to other lawns or removed.
“For the most part everyone participated, and with that fundraiser she raised probably close to $700, $800,” Haynes said.
Haynes added that Merrifield also raised funds through family, friends, other members of her church community at The King’s House in McAlester, and Haynes’ colleagues at the Center for Change in McAlester. Haynes is a behavioral rehabilitation specialist and case manager at the Center for Change.
Once the fee had been sent in, Merrifield said, “they sent us a confirmation letter saying that we were going.”
Merrifield will spend seven days in London with Haynes and Barbara Countz, Haynes’ boss. Merrifield said she’s most looking forward to touring Buckingham Palace and getting to meet the Queen Elizabeth II.
She added that the UCA has several other activities planned, including a cruise down the Thames River.
This will be Merrifield’s first time leaving the country and first time getting on an airplane, she said. It won’t be Merrifield’s first parade, but the local parades in which she’s marched might not compare with the two-mile British New Year’s Day extravaganza.
“We have to walk and dance at the same time, and it’s totally different because you perform it more than once,” Merrifield said.
“They said we would perform it about 25-40 times.”
Though Merrifield is the only Lady Buff who’ll march in London, two Hartshorne Lady Miners will join her: Sarah Stiltner and RaeGail Wilson.
“This is the 26th year we’ve been able to bring talented cheerleaders to London, where they can showcase their skills to a very enthusiastic international audience,” Mike Fultz, the Varsity International Event Coordinator, said in a press release.
This will be Merrifield’s third year as a McAlester cheerleader. She started as an eighth-grade student.
The fourth of five children, Merrifield also dances and participates in 4-H. She said she wants to be someday become a pharmacist.
Based in Memphis, Tenn., Varsity was founded in 1974, according to its website. The organization also runs the UDA National Dance Team Championship in Orlando, at which the Lady Buffs pom squad will perform in February.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.