It isn't just the game. The building up of excitement for a coal region football game has many elements, like the aura of the stadium lights, the sounds of a marching band, and the cheerleaders poised between the bleachers of fans and the players.

For Gabrielle "Gabby" Freed, Tamaqua, a high school junior and daughter of Tom and Kim Freed, watching cheerleaders perform at a high school football game is one of her earliest memories.

"I remember going to games with my mom to watch her brother (Pete McDonald) play in Pottsville," she said. "I don't remember much about the games, but I remember knowing that I wanted to be one of those girls."

Freed's cheerleading experience started in first grade, when she became a member of the Tamaqua Knee-Hi Squad. She was a cheerleader every year, making the Tamaqua Area High School junior varsity team as an eighth-grader, and the varsity squad as a sophomore.

The years were filled with hundreds of hours of practices and performances, and Freed doesn't regret a second of it. She said that after yearly tryouts in March, practices and performances continue through the football and basketball seasons.

"When you go out there and perform well, and put a smile on people's faces, it puts a smile on your face," she said. "Cheerleading has really given me confidence."

And recently, cheerleading gave her much more. Last summer, while attending the Pine Forest camp for cheerleaders, run by the Universal Cheerleaders' Association (UCA), Freed was selected from her squad to try out for the All American Cheerleader team.

"The try outs are held on the third night of camp, and I wasn't sure if I should do it," she recalled. "I was thinking, was I good enough, do I have the skills?"

The other members of the Tamaqua cheerleading squad, and their coach, Missy Hess, encouraged her. Freed had to perform a dance routine, a cheer, and a jump, with one chance to get each skill element perfectly done.

"But I made a mistake without thinking, it just came out when I did the cheer," Freed said. "I was supposed to yell Go Blue, Go Gold and out of habit, I yelled Go Blue, Go White."

"I realized as I did it that I'd made a mistake, but I just kept smiling and finished the cheer."

Soon Freed learned that she'd be adding a color to her familiar blue and white. She'd be wearing a red, white and blue uniform, because she'd been chosen for the All American Cheerleading team, one of only 200 students who are chosen nationwide. From their various states, team members traveled to England to perform in the London New Year's Day Parade.

Freed, who loves history, described it as a very beneficial trip. She stayed in London from Dec. 26 through Jan. 2.

"We got to do a lot of sightseeing, the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey," she said. "I did a lot of reading about London before going, and knew what I wanted to see."

Several grandstands were located along the two-mile parade route, and the All American Cheerleaders performed a dance routine and cheer at each one. Freed said she made many new friends and also was interviewed on a London television station.

But, she said, nothing compares to cheering with the friends on the Tamaqua high school squad and cheering for her home team. She plans a career in physical therapy after graduation, and would like to return to England for more sightseeing someday.

She also enjoys helping out with the Tamaqua Knee-Hi squad, where she got her start 10 years ago.

"I remember what it was like for me then, getting the jitters, worrying about doing things right, but I know that cheerleading will give them confidence," Freed said. "And I hope it opens up doors for them as it did for me."