BETTENDORF — Pleasant Valley High School cheerleaders Megan Gropel and Victoria Parejko participated in the world-famous London New Year's Day Parade.
Gropel, a junior, and Parejko, a senior, were among 800 U.S. high school cheerleaders picked for the parade during a June cheer camp in Cedar Rapids.
The students are part of the All-American program, selected from Universal Cheerleaders Association and National Cheerleaders Association at summer camps across the country.
All-Americans are chosen based on superior athletic and leadership skills; 12 percent of athletes who attend camp can perform in the holiday spectacular, Parejko said before her Wednesday night flight from Chicago with 50 other girls flying from O'Hare. Parejko and Gropel are the only Quad-Cities girls in the group.
“I'm definitely excited, a bit nervous,” Parejko said. "I'm happy Megan is by my side. Megan and I are pretty good friends.”
Begun in 1987, the London parade in Piccadilly promises more than 10,000 participants from the U.S., U.K., Europe and beyond with a street audience of more than half a million and a TV audience that surpassed 300 million in 2018, according to lnydp.com.
This year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City featured 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers, 1,000 clowns, 26 floats and 12 high school and college marching bands.
Parejko said her mother, Annette, participated in the London parade 30 years ago when she was in high school in Hartford City, Ind. — population 5,920. Her mother later cheered at Purdue University.
Parejko has done cheerleading for 10 years. Her family moved to Bettendorf when she was in 8th grade.
“I think cheerleading is like a general sport not many people give a lot of chance to,” she said. “It's given me a lot of memories, taught me a lot of things about myself – teamwork, a lot of teamwork; a lot of trusting yourself and others, while performing, a lot of emotional things.
“It definitely makes you more personable; you have to talk to different people,” she said. “It makes you kind, and it creates a team bonding activity.”
In addition to cheering for basketball and football games, the two girls also run track at Pleasant Valley and Parejko also is on the soccer team.
At the UCA week-long camp this summer, six girls from each school could try out for London, Parejko said; 25 girls were chosen from the entire camp.
“We did a cheer, a dance and jumps,” she said.
When she learned she was picked for London, Victoria said: “I was excited, I was emotional. It was something I looked forward to for so long. I always wanted to follow in my mom's footsteps.”
She said she was also invited to become a UCA staff member for a future summer camp, which she'll likely start in 2020.
Gropel said she also was excited wanted to try out for the London parade.
"I had heard other stories, other girls who went," she said. "I'm excited to perform in front of all those people."
She said the biggest event she's cheered at so far was the Illinois-Iowa Basketball Shootout at Augustana College last January.
Monday night's New Year's Eve party will be much bigger than she's used to, she said, because she normally just hangs out with friends. In London, they'll have a party for cheerleaders at their hotel.
The girls also plan to see the musical “Wicked” while in London and take guided tours of Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London.
Gropel is looking forward to meeting new people and seeing a friend in London whose grandparents live here and attend her church, Bettendorf Presbyterian.
The parade's Varsity Spirit All-Americans include cheerleaders, dancers and spirit performers who qualified at Varsity Spirit summer camps including UCA, NCA, Universal Dance Association, National Dance Alliance and United Spirit Association. U.S. high-school participants also will include the Downers Grove North marching band.