BY MARY WICOFF
OAKWOOD — MaKayla Gayler has been a cheerleader since she was 5 years old — and she’s still not tired of it.
“It’s my favorite thing to do,” said Gayler, a freshman at Oakwood High School.
That passion has led her to compete for the chance to perform nationally — in the Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia as part of the Universal Cheerleaders Association’s All American Cheer Team. Gayler performed in the parade and in the finale last month.
It was her third time that she won the chance to march in the parade.
“When you get out there with the crowd, it’s exciting, and knowing you’re on TV,” she said.
At certain points in the parade, the girls would turn on the music and do their routines with their pompons.
She wasn’t nervous this time, as it was her third year, but she remembers being nervous when she was a seventh-grader. “It was a bigger deal when I was younger,” she said. “I wasn’t nervous (this time). I try to block it out the best I can.”
This year, the parade participants enjoyed warm weather, but she remembers it was a snowy day with hail her first year.
Gayler started with the Oakwood Youth Cheerleading when she was a kindergartener, and continued with that through seventh grade. At Oakwood Junior High, she continued her love of cheerleading.
That’s when she first tried out for the UCA All American Cheer Team and made it both her seventh- and eighth-grade years. As a freshman in high school, she got the chance to try out again this past summer while at camp in Bloomington, Ind., with Oakwood High School varsity cheerleaders.
Gayler also had been in competitive gymnastics in second through fourth grades, later switching to competitive cheerleading in fifth grade to present. In February, she will try for a level 5 cheer team out of Chicago.
Gayler said she wants to try out for the UCA teams throughout high school. Sophomores and older get the chance to perform in London, which she’s looking forward to.
In Philadelphia, the entire Gayler family made a vacation out of the trip. Cheering her on were parents, Jeff and Hillary Gayler; older sister, MaKenzie, also a cheerleader at Oakwood High; and younger brother, Gage, a student at Oakwood Grade School.
Other family members also have joined the trips at times, including her grandparents, Lesley Chilcote of Covington, Ind., Gary and Judy Gayler of Covington and Rick and Connie Knight of Sidney.
“It was a great experience,” said Chilcote, who was the chaperone all three years. The family took sightseeing tours, and enjoyed the city.
Chilcote said she’s proud of her grandchildren, and so was her late husband, Gary Chilcote.
“All of my grandkids are awesome,” she said.
Referring to MaKayla and MaKenzie, she said, “The sky’s limit of both those girls.”
Besides cheerleading, MaKayla is involved in basketball, volleyball, softball and track, and is a high-honors student.