By Misty Volaski
Megan McFarland never intended to be a cheerleader, but it seems to be working out just fine for her. The Nordhoff High School junior is heading to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii next month, to cheer with NFL cheerleaders in front of a crowd of 70,000.
“I never even thought about cheerleading when I was younger,” McFarland said. But a friend convinced her to come to the tryouts during their freshman year at Nordhoff.
“It was totally spontaneous. I was like, ‘Are you really going to’make me do this?’” she said. To McFarland’s surprise, however, “I made the team! And whoa, I kind of liked it!”
It turned out, cheerleading came naturally to McFarland, who has been dancing for nine years. “At first I wasn’t so into the cheery part of it — I was more of a dancer, a ballerina. But as I got into it, I realized there was a lot of dance.” The two disciplines seemed to complement each other. “Dancing helps me with cheer, and cheer helps with dance. Both are really challenging,” she said.
Along with her teammates, McFarland practices four days a week, Monday through Thursday for two and one-half hours every day. “It’s a lot! When the season starts, it’s a lot of conditioning, a lot of working out. We have to learn new dance routines for every home game,” McFarland said. “We’re constantly learning new material.”
McFarland got her chance to go to the Pro Bowl last summer, when she and her fellow cheerleaders went to cheer camp. Girls from several schools came together to learn six new cheers, and create two of their own. McFarland’s skill caught the eye of camp coordinators, who honored her with top marks, called “superiors” — which qualified her for the opportunity to cheer in front of huge audiences. “It’s like a reward — you get to cheer in London,” McFarland said. But traveling halfway around the world is a little expensive, so she and her mom decided to look online and call around for other opportunities. Her camp’s coordinators told her since she had gotten all the top awards at camp, they’d give her a package to cheer in Hawaii Dec. 27 to Jan. 1. “They also promised me I would be automatically eligible to go to London next year,” McFarland said. “I better start saving!”
December’s Pro Bowl will include long practices — “pretty much day and night, we’ll be cheering and learning new stuff,” she said — and a chance to learn from the professional NFL cheerleaders. “We’ll be constantly on the go till game day!”
She and her fellow high school cheerleaders will cheer right alongside the professionals at a pregame show, and then again at the halftime show.
The Pro Bowl could be a huge opportunity for McFarland to advance her cheer career. Not only will she get the chance to apply for other events and scholarships, “There will be scouts there watching us!”
The competition, however, will be tough. “People from all over the world are going to this,” she said. “No one else will be there from Ojai but me and my mom!”
Cheerleading aside, McFarland has some serious academic ambitions as well. In her sophomore year she joined Nordhoff’s Health Science Academy, a three-year R.O.P. program which takes up half the students’ school day and seeks to help them learn more about health sciences careers and opportunities. This year, she and her classmates are focusing on sports medicine, and next year, they’ll actually be medical assistants.
“I want to go to medical school to be a medical examiner,” McFarland said. She’s looking into the medical programs at schools such as U.C. Davis, USC and Sacramento State. “I have a lot of choices.”