NEW YORK, N.Y. — Look closely at the group of red-and-white-sparkly-dressed cheerleaders leading the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, as one of Mazon’s own will be among them.
Hannah Mehochko, a senior cheerleader at Seneca Township High School, was chosen to be one of the elite to lead off the famous parade with dancing and cheer moves. She will then turn right around and accompany Santa Clause at the very end to close the festivities.
Mehochko might be a little hard to pick out on T.V., though. She’s part of a group of about 700 varsity cheerleaders from high schools around the country.
“I was so excited,” Hannah said about when she learned she would be going. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Being a part of the parade has meant hours and hours of rehearsal, she said. She and her family arrived in New York City earlier this week, and practices have been numerous. Hannah knows the drill, though. She’s been in dance or cheerleading since she was very little.
She was only around 2 years old when she started dance lessons at Pam’s Academy of Dance in Morris. At the time, she said, she wanted to do dance because she wanted to be like her older sister, Molly, who was a dancer.
She soon found she loved it, too.
Hannah also tried several sports when she was young — giving soccer, volleyball, and basketball a try — but nothing really appealed to her until she began cheering.
“Cheerleading was a lot better than sports for me,” she said. “I started in sixth grade at MVK. I love it.”
She loved just about everything about cheerleading, but she always had her eye on the girls who were thrown up in the air. They’re called “flyers,” or “top girls,” and Hannah worked at becoming one. In high school, she did.
“It’s my absolute favorite part of being a cheerleader,” she said.
The moves she does include “the prep,” when other cheerleaders hold her feet while she stands at about shoulder level; "an extension,” which is when she’s held above their heads; and “libs,” when the top girl stands on one foot while four hands hold her other foot.
“Basket tosses” are her favorite moves and are done when cheerleaders intertwine arms and one sits in the basket formed by the interlocking hands. The flyer is then thrown up in the air and free-falls down.
This year, her senior year, Hannah says has been especially fun because she and the other cheerleaders who throw her have gotten it down pat.
“This year, especially, I was going really high,” she said. “We’ve developed the experience.”
Hannah made All American Cheerleader last summer at the Universal Cheerleaders’ Association Camp, or UCA, which is where she was given the opportunity to participate in the big parade. Although she’s been in such local parades as the Grundy County Corn Festival Parade, this will be her first national one.
It’s been a whirlwind so far, she said.
“This week has been so exhausting,” she said. “There are 700 girls, all in one big ballroom. The rehearsals are hectic and loud.”
The All Americans had a three-hour rehearsal Saturday, seven hours of rehearsal Sunday, rehearsals in the morning and evening Monday, then had a day off Tuesday. They will rehearse again Wednesday, then meet at the Hilton Hotel ballroom at 5 in the morning Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, where they will have a uniform check and a final run-through before the parade.
Hannah said she was a little nervous at first, being the only one from her high school going. There were other girls from SHS who got the honor, she said, but they weren’t able to go.
The other cheerleaders there made her feel immediately welcome, though.
When you walked up, they’d say, ‘Hi, what’s your name?’” she said. “Everyone’s friendly. I’ve met so many new girls. Everyone’s so nice to each other.”
There are people from all over the country, she said, especially the South.
“I’m hearing a lot of Southern accents,” she said.
During their off time, Hannah and her family – mom and dad, Julie and Dan; her sister, Molly; and her brother, Mark – have been doing some sightseeing, in addition to checking the sights with her group. They’ve been to the Statue of Liberty, shopping in Times Square, and have seen “Bring It On: The Musical,” and they were planning to see the Rockettes perform, go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and visit the Empire State Building.
The only bad thing, Hannah said, is going to be missing her family’s Thanksgiving dinner, especially the turkey, mashed potatoes, and Morris Bakery rolls.
“I’m going to come home and plead for some leftovers,” she said.