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Zuri Berry: Taking cheer abroad

Life lessons and humility are an integral part of sports, and indeed sometimes the lessons go without saying: Hard work, discipline and respect.

The beauty of it all is that these core lessons aren’t subject to the restraints of ‘ball sports, but just the means of competition.

This week, I’m happy to say I’ve learned that alumni of Bear River’s cheerleading team, as well as a representative from Village Care International and a Loretto High school student, will be going to Uganda to help teach health, fitness and English at a school in the country, focusing on orphans and widows.



It’s cheerleaders looking to pump up folks who are less fortunate.

The group will be there a total of 17 days, starting June 27 with the trip sponsored by Village Care International, an organization based in Auburn dedicated to helping prop up villages in Africa, giving support to orphans and teaching.




Bear River’s cheer adviser Chris Espedal, along with her daughter Cara (Espedal) Cooney, Danielle Sowers, Heidi Redmond and Breann Sorenson are all of the Bear River folks on the trip. Sally Lunetta will go representing Village Care and Anna Biveens is coming from Loretto High school (Sacramento).

It will be no small feat for the group. Each of the seven had to raise $4,600 to go, not to mention the fact that they’ll have to forego showers (running water), electricity and mattresses to sleep on.

“They’re giving up time from work, their vacation time. They’re really putting themselves out there by going to a place that is by no means hotel luxury,” said Espedal over the phone, who is also the school nurse at Bear River and has been to Africa twice before with Village Care.

It only makes sense that they require volunteers to raise their own money to go on the trip. It makes even more sense that they found volunteers, grounded in principle, to take up the task, given what sports teaches you.

“This trip is unique in that it’s a group of young women,” Espedal said. “I’ve really have tried to instill leadership and life skills and encourage the girls to give back locally and globally. I’m just really happy that these girls are willing … It can change their lives.”

Getting into an endeavor of this sort requires a bit of character. As Espedal puts it, she signed on because of the “philosophy, purpose and goals.”

“I really like the mission statement,” she said. “(Village Care) kind of says to these places, ‘with the resources you have on hand, what can you do to make things better.’ It wasn’t like putting Band-Aids on. It was like orchestrating relief.

“Once I went, I couldn’t stop going back.”

With trips to Kenya and Nigeria under her belt, Espedal will be an elder statesman in the group, looking forward to seeing what the younger women (most are younger than 25) learn on the trip.

I’m guessing, and just guessing, that there’s only so many more lessons these women can learn. If they can figure it out, whatever it is, I’ll be glad to know this county will have at least five stronger individuals with morals and compass.

They didn’t need sports for that, but I’m sure it helped.

Zuri Berry is a sports writer at The Union. His columns appears Wednesdays. You can also read his blog online at http://www.theunion.com/blogs/sports. You can contact Zuri via e-mail at zberry@theunion.com or call 477-4244.


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