Devotion to sport leads NHS cheerleader to prestigious parade

Hailey Ternus never expected her cheer career to take her to the national stage.

She recently danced in one of the country’s most famous parades, but whatever, her expectations never went that far.

“Going to the joy was something I never expected to do, but I decided in a second that I wanted to try it out,” Ternus said.

Ternus, captain of the Norfolk High cheerleading team, participated in the annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade in Hawaii earlier this month. Select cheerleaders and dancers from across the nation performed for veterans and families affected by the Pearl Harbor attack 81 years ago.

The parade is organized by Varsity Spirit, an American cheerleading company behind the sport’s top uniforms, camps and competitions. At summer camps operated by a sister organization, the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA), outstanding athletes known as All-Americans are identified and invited to participate in the organization’s various parades.

Ternus was selected as an All-American at a UCA summer camp the Norfolk High cheer team attended in Lincoln earlier this year. To be selected as an All-American, eligible athletes must perform a series of different skills as ordered by a UCA official. If athletes are able to successfully perform a skill, they move on in the selection process. After the one-hour trial ended, Ternus and several other Nebraska cheerleaders became All-Americans.

From there, All-Americans can choose to participate in a parade in one of three locations – London, Florida or Hawaii. Ternus and 15 other Nebraska All-Americans chose the Hawaii Pearl Harbor Parade, according to a Varsity Spirit spokesman.

“I was really excited to go to the Hawaii parade because I got to choose where I wanted to go,” she said. “I felt a lot of excitement and nervousness throughout the trip, but the excitement definitely took over. Honestly, it was quite a trail of emotions.

According to Varsity Spirit, only the top 12% of cheerleaders and dancers from these camps earn the opportunity to participate in the parades. Such performances are widely considered high caliber by various cheerleading and dance organizations.

IN THE DAYS leading up to the December 7 showtime, Ternus and other participating athletes went through an hour-long practice to memorize the parade cheer routine. Cheerleaders and dancers were also assigned to specific spots on the parade route after a “mini-tryouts” session with choreographers.

She was placed in the center of the parade. Her placement later became a source of joy for Ternus, as family members and friends could clearly see the Norfolk standout as she entered the camera frame.

“Luckily, the event was live streamed, and that made it possible for people at home to see the parade,” said Nicole Ternus, Hailey’s mother.

As he walked to the parade ground, Ternus recalled seeing several veterans and other military personnel along the way — which was heartwarming because she had a grandfather who had served before.

“Seeing all the military members on the sidewalks was very touching,” she said.

When the parade started at 6 p.m. local time, cheers erupted as current and former military service members, related organizations and Varsity Spirit cheerleaders made their way through the South Waikiki parade. Several athletes encouraged each other to perform well due to their lack of energy, but each was quickly rejuvenated as they passed the television cameras.

“The parade experience is something I would definitely do again,” she said.

In addition to the parade, athletes also had the opportunity to visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial site in Hawaii. While Ternus and her family had visited the site before, the interest never waned.

“Pearl Harbor never fails to amaze me. I never expected to learn about the things I did at the memorial site. It’s something everyone should be able to experience,” she said.

While the Pearl Harbor experience only lasted a week, the preparation for such a performance was long, extensive and perhaps one she prepared for her entire life.

LIKE MOST cheerleaders, Ternus began her career by attending dance classes at a young age. She later cited these dance lessons as something that helped her career progress in high school.

In eighth grade, she saw Norfolk High cheerleaders on the sidelines during some football and basketball games. This eventually became her inspiration to pursue cheerleading.

Then, in the spring of 2019, Ternus attended a Norfolk High Cheer Team tryout so she could officially start cheering in the fall. Although she was intimidated by the older, more experienced girls, she was accepted onto the NHS cheer team before her freshman year.

Since then, her career has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. Among the happiest moments was becoming a UCA All-American all four years in high school, including the All-American title that led to her Pearl Harbor Parade appearance this month.

“We were definitely excited for her to step out of her comfort zone when she started cheering. Seeing that she wanted to overcome her fear of big crowds definitely made us proud of her,” her mom said.

From her sophomore year, Ternus continued to gain confidence through her skills as a performer and team leader. NHS Cheer Coach Darienne Wood expressed how Ternus’ work ethic, confidence and skills will certainly be hard to miss in her first year as an NHS Cheer Coach.

“Over the past few months, since I met Hailey in May, she has shown growth in her skills as a cheerleader and as a captain. She knows how to take over practice and work with her co-captains to learn routines and make sure that things run smoothly for game day. Hailey works so hard and is always working to perfect new stunts and routines,” Wood said.

As captain, Ternus is primarily responsible for creating routines and accounting for all cheer team members.

“I also go out of my way to make sure they are all physically and emotionally well so they are at their best during practice,” she added. “Doing these things makes me feel like I can be more selfless and take care of other people.”

She plans to continue her cheer career and is weighing different options for colleges. While cheerleading in college wasn’t part of the original plan, her family is excited to see where her career takes her.

“We are so proud of Hailey and all the things she has been able to accomplish. She is goal-driven, and I was excited to watch her on the sidelines for whatever sport she pursued,” said Nicole Ternus .

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