There are a lot of stereotypes out there, one of them is of head cheerleaders. Pop culture paints them as elitist, haughty, and sometimes downright evil. But, conventional wisdom, and a good dose of reality can clear that right up; especially if you meet Emma Lanham, head cheerleader for the Centennial High School Bulldogs.
According to students and faculty at the Pueblo high school, Lanham is the epitome of school spirit, as any good cheerleader ought to be. But she takes it to a level few have seen. Making it a point to join many clubs, interact with as many students, and maintain a positive, friendly, attitude has won the hearts and minds of the majority of the student body, if not the faculty.
"Emma has the personality to take on projects like this and be a leader," say interim Athletic Director, Pete Falletta. Her coach, Jaime Withnell agrees, "she definitely is the smile to the team, [the] smile to the school."
But after years of cheering competitions, Emma found she wanted more out of her favorite pastime. "When you do the competitions it's almost like your competing for yourself, but you’re not doing anything to help out anyone else," explains Lanham.
As January brought her a new year, her final one at Centennial, Emma wanted her hard work to mean something, for her cheering to not only fire up the crowd, but truly matter. It was surfing the internet at a friend’s house she found a worthy cause. Emma had heard about the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation from a former coach, but it wasn't until she read about eight-year-old Alexandra Scott that it sunk in.
Alexandra "Alex" Scott battled neuroblastoma nearly all of her short life. She lost her battle to the rare childhood cancer in 2004, but not before she started a fundraising effort that has lasted 10 years, raising more than $1 million in the first four.
It was Alex's determination to have a lemonade stand at four years old, to raise money for cancer research and to assist families of children with cancer that touched Lanham so deeply. "It made me realize that I can do things, and I can make a difference," says Lanham.
Now, Emma is breaking away from the team, going solo and performing routines in a special blue and gold uniform. Team Alex's proudly displayed across the front. Emma says, she's disheartened that children with cancer may never get the chance to live a full life, and attain all of the dreams she's been lucky enough to have enjoyed. So, the senior is spending her final school year paying it forward. "I'm giving myself a whole year and I'm planning on raising over $2,000" says Lanham.
With one fundraiser already under her belt, Lanham's second was held in her own high school gymnasium Wednesday night. After a week of promoting the event, selling homemade t-shirts, as well as bracelets and temporary tattoos supplied by the foundation, Emma was nervous. It would be the first time she performed in the new uniform, and she didn't want to let Alex down. "I know she's looking down... and I want to thank her for letting me see what's more important in the world, rather than just cheer leading and being in clubs, and being popular," said Lanham choking back tears.
The turnout was less than what was expected, but the crowd showed their support vocally during the cheer routines, and financially through donations. Three tiny porcelain piggy-banks, hand decorated by Lanham, were stuffed with about $300. Emma says she was happy with how it all turned out.
After Wednesday night, she's a quarter of the way to her $2,000 goal and she's pumped up for more fundraisers, many of which will come in the fall, as she starts college.
For more information about the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, click the link below.
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