If you have ever attended a college football game, you have witnessed some spectacular halftime shows; usually made up of school bands and talented dance squads. Now imagine it’s your first time attending a college football game and you are the one performing for the halftime show.
That’s how it worked out for 16-year old Jerica Hysell. Jerica, a Wayne Community sophomore, recently had the opportunity of a lifetime being able to not only attend one of college football’s biggest bowl games of the year, but also was a part of the halftime show.
Jerica along with nine other area dance students from Buffy’s Studio B and Company out of Centerville had the chance to dance alongside with over 250 other dancers from all over the United States during the New Year’s Day Citrus Bowl game in Orlando, Fla. This bowl game featured the #12 ranked Big 10 team Penn State up against the #14 ranked SEC Kentucky Wildcats.
Not that the teams mattered as both Jerica and her mother Jessica were hoping it would be the Iowa Hawkeyes playing in the Citrus Bowl they would be attending.
“It was almost Iowa, had they won one more game it would have been them!” said Jessica. “We were so hoping they would have made it.”
“It was still such a neat experience but I really wanted it to be Iowa playing,” Jerica added in. “With the two teams that played I didn’t really care who won.”
Although Jerica has experience on the sidelines as a Wayne Falcon football cheerleader, being a part of the main show was quite different. Then add in the 65,000 fans in attendance and the fact it was a nationally televised game and the reality set in.
“We got to the stadium a few hours before the game and as I looked around and seen all the seats I thought to myself oh boy, that’s a lot of seats and this is really big,” said Jerica. “I was nervous and I realized just how big it was once I was actually there, but luckily when it was time to dance I wasn’t nervous anymore.”
Jerica has performed at county fairs, dance competitions and many recitals throughout the years traveling around Iowa and as far as Nebraska and Kansas, however nothing could prepare her for just how “big” this opportunity was. An experience like this doesn’t just happen overnight. For Jerica and the other local dancers, they were blessed with this opportunity presented to them from their dance teacher at Studio B and Company, Buffy Hurley.
“Buffy danced in a halftime show when she was 24 and she was later hired as a recruiter for the All-American Halftime Show,” Jerica began. “She informed her high school dancers of the process and gave us the opportunity to audition for a spot.”
Those that earned a spot to dance in the halftime show received a video of the choreographed dance routine they would be performing approximately one month before the bowl game. Each dancer was responsible for learning the routine before making the trip to the game.
“It was just a crazy process to me watching her learn the dance and I’ve watched this many times,” Jessica said.
The halftime show was set as a Tribute to Aretha Franklin with routines choreographed to her hit songs Respect and Think.
“I told my mom if I ever heard those songs again I’d start dancing and doing the routines in my head now I have heard them so much,” Jerica joked.
Once the dancers arrived and met the first time they were put into a large conference room and placed in rows according to how they would be set up on the football field. Jerica’s placement on the field for the routine would be on the 40-yard line, five rows back.
While there were nine other local dancers from Buffy’s studio, the dancers Jerica knew were not put together. Thus making it an opportunity to meet and make new friends.
“It was so cool meeting new people from all over and when I was there I just kept thinking wow I’m really here,” said Jerica.
Putting a new group of kids that have never danced together seems like an impossible task. Yet, they put in the time and pulled it off on live television.
Preparing for this trip to Florida also included many fundraisers to raise money that began nearly a year before the game date. Jerica’s package included her hotel stay in Florida, which was a large 25-floor hotel where all the dancers for the halftime show stayed together, tickets to the bowl game, Disneyworld and Universal Studios, her dance uniform and several meals.
With the trip being scheduled during the holiday break from school, Jerica’s family including her mom Jessica, dad Dusty and younger sister Ava, decided to spend Christmas away from home as they traveled to support her during her big moment and make it a family vacation. Leaving from Iowa on Dec. 21 they traveled first to Nashville before making their way to Tybee Island, Ga for three days followed by the trip to Orlando where they remained until Jan. 2.
Other family members joining the Hysell’s for Christmas on the road and to cheer on their favorite dancer was Becky Hysell, James and Connie West, Jennifer Wilson, Jona West, Aubrey Wilson and Kyle Gall.
“It was different but it was really nice to be somewhere warm, we even spent Christmas day on the beach,” said Jerica when asked how it was spending her first Christmas away from home. “It didn’t really feel like Christmas but it will definitely be a Christmas I always remember.”
Of course Santa still found Jerica and Ava while in Florida, helping to add to the Christmas spirit.
“I really was so proud of her,” Jessica said. “I was a nervous wreck of course and we had to move to see her better when performing because we didn’t drive all that way to not have a better view, but she did great.”
“It was so incredible and I would definitely do it again if I was given the chance,” Jerica said. “It was so amazing but it wouldn’t have been possible without all the people that contributed to my fundraisers and I can’t thank my family enough for coming to support me.”
“That’s just small-town for ya,” Jessica added. “They are always there to help make things like this possible.”