We Got Spirit
WUHS cheerleaders find a new reason to cheer at FCA/UCA Camp
By Michelle Medlock Adams
Washington Union High School (WUHS) Cheer Coach Salina Diaz sighed deeply as she headed toward the gym to talk with her squad. She knew it wouldn’t be a happy meeting — not with the news she had to share.
Since Diaz had taken over the Easton, Calif., high school cheer program so late in the school year, there had been no time for fundraising activities, and unfortunately, the cheer account was totally depleted. Therefore, the girls would not be able to attend a summer cheer camp.
Just then, her cell phone rang. It was Neil Marthedal of the WUHS Booster Club and FCA’s Naional Board of Trustees.
God had come through — just in time.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Diaz shares. “Neil said that the Booster Club had enough money to send the entire squad to camp. I couldn’t wait to go in there and tell the girls the exciting news – we were going to camp after all!”
And not just any camp — it was the first Universal Cheer Association/Fellowship of Christian Athletes joint venture at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, Calif. Diaz knew the FCA Camp would be life-changing for her cheerleaders. In fact, she knew it firsthand.
“I accepted Christ into my life when I went to FCA Leadership Camp my senior year in high school,” Diaz remembers. “I had known about Jesus before that camp, but I never made a real commitment to Him until then.”
Diaz hoped the UCA/FCA Camp would hold the same experience for her squad, so she and her co-coach, Heidi Stark, began praying in preparation for what was to come.
A Different World
Even though the news was exciting, it left the girls with less than two weeks to get ready for camp. Their uniforms wouldn’t be in until after camp, and there was no money in the account to purchase matching outfits. So, Diaz and Stark bought packets of inexpensive white men’s T-shirts, colorful puff paint, and had a sleepover with the sole purpose of making matching cheer T-shirts.
|The WUHS squad with Tirabassi at Fields of Faith.|
The day finally arrived, and all 13 girls piled into the school van bound for Vanguard. Diaz and Stark had already planned to crank up Christian music in the van to set the mood for what was to come, but resistance came early.
“It was not starting off well,” Diaz remembers. “They wanted to listen to their secular music. They were fighting with their boyfriends on their cell phones and whining to us, saying things like, ‘Do we have to go to the devotions every night at camp? Because none of us want to.’”
Diaz and Stark continued praying, hoping there would be a change of heart by the time their van pulled into the parking lot at Vanguard. After several hours on the road, the WUHS cheerleaders finally arrived and stumbled out of their school van. Some were wearing their pajamas. Others sported scary hair from sleeping on the way over. And no one could believe what they saw — eight squads of bright-eyed and perky cheerleaders in matching outfits, filing out of chartered buses and luxurious limos.
Before they could even comment, they were interrupted by a group of nearby cheerleaders, enthusiastically chanting, “We love Jesus, yes we do. We love Jesus, how ‘bout you?”
The girls just looked at each other in disbelief.
“You have got to be kidding me,” one of the girls groaned.
“I thought, ‘We might as well go back home,’” Diaz confesses. “After seeing all of the private Christian schools represented, we obviously didn’t fit in, and the girls were feeling out of place.”
They immediately didn’t like the other squads, and actually, they weren’t that crazy about each other. With a multi-ethnic cheer team, strife was already rearing its ugly head. Diaz wondered if her team would ever understand what it meant to be unified.
After grumbling their way through the first day of the UCA/FCA Camp, Diaz coerced the girls into going to that evening’s service. They came in late and sat in the very back of the room, leaning against the wall and rolling their eyes ... a lot.
As Diaz and Stark joined in the praise and worship service, the girls talked and joked. Dan Britton, FCA’s Senior Vice President of Ministry Programs, spoke that first night, sharing what it meant to compete for God’s glory. The WUHS cheerleaders listened, letting their guard down a bit.
God had begun a work in their hearts; Diaz just hoped the work would continue.
Something to Cheer About
By the end of the second day of camp, the WUHS squad had learned exciting choreography and difficult stunts. Diaz prayed they’d be just as open to learning about Jesus that night during the devotional time.
That evening, Diaz made sure the girls were on time and asked them to sit closer to the front. As keynote speaker and award-winning author Becky Tirabassi shared her own struggles as a former high school cheerleader, the girls literally sat on the edge of their seats — especially when Tirabassi spoke of the suicidal thoughts she’d battled at one point in her life.
When Tirabassi specifically spoke to those girls who wanted to make a
commitment to Christ, two members of the WUHS squad practically ran to the front for prayer. Almost immediately, the rest of the team followed.
The Holy Spirit moved through the room, and by the end of the service, almost every single girl was crying and worshipping the Lord.
“It was awesome,” Britton shares. “To see God move in the lives of those (WUHS) girls affected everyone in the room. I overheard one of the cheerleaders from a Christian school whisper to her friend, ‘I’ve never seen God work like that before.’”
Neither had Tirabassi.
“It was the highlight of my ministry career,” she confesses.
After the service, the girls broke up into their Huddle groups, where ministry continued. Tirabassi stayed with the WUHS squad and laid hands on every single girl in that squad, praying intently over each one.
It was a turning point for each girl individually, and it was a turning point for the WUHS varsity cheer squad as a whole.
“That night, we all piled into one dorm room, pulled the mattresses together on the floor and stayed together,” Diaz shares. “We prayed together, talked about what had happened that night, and finally slept a little. It was amazing. The team was so united after that … They all expressed new dreams.”
Not only did Diaz see a difference in her squad, others took notice, too.
“They were so fired up for God after that night,” Britton says. “There was an obvious difference in them.”
Spreading Good Cheer
That enthusiasm for God didn’t end when camp was over. On the drive home, the girls made a pact that they would encourage each other in the Lord. And they have.
|The squad praying at Fields of Faith.|
They now begin practices with prayer and Bible reading, and their Christian witness is making a difference in their families, school and community.
During Homecoming Week this past fall, the girls were responsible for making a float and doing additional “cheerleader duties” to show school spirit. But, their hearts desired to show the Holy Spirit, too, through an event called Fields of Faith.
Fields of Faith is a student-to-student ministry, in which peers invite their own classmates and teammates to meet on their school’s athletic field and hear about Jesus Christ.
“Mr. Marthedal let us know about Fields of Faith, and the girls immediately wanted to do it,” Diaz says.
They also wanted Becky Tirabassi to speak at their event, so they flooded her inbox with e-mails, begging her to come.
She was happy to oblige, sharing her testimony with the more than 150 students in attendance. And, she wasn’t the only one willing to share her story. WUHS cheerleaders Monique Gonzalez and Marissa Marquez also shared their testimonies.
Marquez, a high school junior, talked about how she, too, had struggled with thoughts of suicide and how she’d felt all alone until she gave her heart to God.
“People were surprised by what I shared,” she says. “They had no idea what I was going through because I was good at hiding my real feelings. I think what we said affected a lot of people — even my guy friends.”
Many were touched.
In fact, an entire youth football team that was just waiting on the sidelines to take the field for practice ended up going forward to accept Christ into their lives when Tirabassi made the altar call.
The WUHS varsity cheerleaders are continuing their quest to take their school and city for God.
“The camp, Fields of Faith, this whole experience has been a turning point for all of us,” Marquez shares. “I tell everyone, ‘If you get a chance to go to an FCA Camp, just go! It could change your life. It did mine.’”
Just the Facts...
Universal Cheerleading Association partnered with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for a “test camp” at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, Calif., in the summer of 2006. Nine squads attended, and the feedback was phenomenal. According to Dan Britton, Senior Vice President of Ministry Programs for FCA, and Looie Harris, West Regional Manager for UCA, there will be about seven such cheer camps in 2007. Now that’s really something to cheer about!
Fields of Faith began in 2004 when more than 6,000 students gathered on school athletic fields throughout Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. Today, FOF is flourishing with more and more students embracing the vision and holding their own FOF events. Visit www.fieldsoffaith.com.
It is estimated that more than 80 percent of youth who attend church will stop going.
Photos courtesy of Salina Diaz
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