HERSHEY – Since 1936, Hersheypark Arena has played host to some of the biggest events in Pennsylvania.
The venerable old barn was home to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears for 66 years until 2002, when they moved into the nearby Giant Center.
The arena, which survived a fire that damaged the roof in July of 2012, also has served as host for past PIAA wrestling and basketball championships, the Ice Capades, Disney on Ice, the World Wrestling Federation, professional soccer and an extravagant birthday celebration for former President Dwight Eisenhower.
The most famous event staged ever here, though, was in 1962, when Wilt Chamberlain scored an NBA-record 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors in a game against the New York Knicks.
Well, now you can add another first to the arena’s long, rich history.
The PIAA Competitive Spirit Championships were held here Saturday, February 2nd. The event attracted 5,600 spectators and athletes for the first-ever competition of its kind in the state.
In all, 95 high school teams competed for gold medals in three divisions – small (15 or fewer squad members), medium (16-20) and large (21 or more).
Butler (small), New Oxford (medium) and Cumberland Valley (large) all claimed PIAA cheerleading championships Saturday night.
“It feels absolutely amazing,” Butler’s Jewel Erkman said. “Our girls have worked so hard, and have been through so much this season, but we came together tonight.
“Winning a gold medal feels great in the first-ever PIAA cheerleading competition.”
Overall, 40 teams competed in the small division, 24 in the medium and 31 in the large.
“We were so pleasantly surprised with not only the turnout from our teams that were interested in competing, but as well, the spectators, the fans and school administrators who showed up to support their teams,” said Melissa Mertz, Associate Executive Director of the PIAA.
“We treated this a lot different than a lot of our other sports and championships. We really had to step outside the box on this one, liking hiring DJs (disc jockeys), things we haven’t done before.”
GTM Sportswear, based in Manhattan, Kan. and represented by Courtney Mitchko, Jenna Johnson and Clinton Otwell, donated $10,000 to help sponsor the inaugural event.
Angie Gable of Dallastown was named the first recipient of the Competitive Spirit Coaches Award. She has been the football and wrestling cheerleader coach at the school the past 20 years.
“It’s a testament to the girls that I received this honor,” Gable said.