Headed to nationals, the Bluffton Bulldogs need your H-E-L-P

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  • They've got spirit. Yes, they do.

    The Bluffton Bulldogs cheerleaders are jumping for joy over the chance to participate in a national competition at Walt Disney World. The girls qualified for the National High School Cheerleading Championship after taking first and second places in different divisions at a regional competition Nov. 20 in Greensboro, N.C. Now 32 girls in the Bulldogs program are preparing to travel to Orlando, Fla., for the Feb. 12-13 event, which will be at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World.

    Coach Kim Abernethy said this is the first time the organization has gone to regionals or nationals.

    They have always competed in league competitions but never tried to go beyond that until this school year. She said they had participated in state competitions, but almost always left with first place and didn't feel challenged. So when the girls met over the summer they decided to kick it up a notch.

    "They've worked so hard," Abernethy said about the girls, who have been practicing a few times a week to prepare for nationals. "We have put in hours and hours of practice."

    This season's Bluffton Bulldogs cheerleading team consists of 83 girls. The Bulldogs organization is a recreational program unaffiliated with the Beaufort County School District and is open to all elementary- and middle school-age children. In the fall, the girls cheer every Saturday for the football teams in the organization. Home games are played at the Bluffton High School stadium. At the end of each football season, the girls switch into competition mode.

    Abernethy said the team has racked up quite a few other awards this cheer season, including several first and second places at competitions in Hampton and Charleston.

    And although the young girls have no problem performing well in these competitions, they have a different kind of challenge before making it to Disney. Some of the girls are struggling to come up with enough money to cover the cost of the trip.

    The girls' parents have to come up with $205 each for registration plus the cost of gas, food, lodging and Disney park passes for family members. The registration cost covers passes for the girls to enter the park, but family members have to buy their own tickets if they want to attend the competition.

    The cheerleaders have hosted various fundraisers to come up with the money. They sold cookie dough and pies.

    They hosted a pancake breakfast, a spaghetti dinner and a cornhole tournament. They've raised more than $4,000, but Abernethy said the team needs more help.

    "The whole team is very excited," 9-year-old Hannah Cooler said. "Any support from Bluffton would be great so we can bring back the championship."