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Oakdale Cheerleaders Fight To Reclaim Dream
A Test Of Spirit
Cheer jacket
The Firestorm Elite squad modeling their official Spirit of America jackets as they prepare to leave in less than two weeks for New York where they will perform during the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The squad also received all new special cheer uniforms for the event. KIM VAN METER/THE LEADER

Five months ago, the Oakdale Inferno Cheer Firestorm Elite squad was invited by Spirit of America to perform at the annual iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York—a chance of a lifetime.

A squad of young athletes and their parents poured themselves into a frenzy of fundraising to make that dream a reality—a $33,375 goal that would have covered all expenses and provided a little spending money for the girls.

And when they were so close to hitting their goal, the team and their families were devastated by a revelation so shocking and unexpected it rocked an entire community, shattering trust and breaking the team spirit.

The squad’s coach was arrested on charges of alleged embezzlement from the team’s account—leaving the girls with nothing but a looming payment deadline and emotional devastation.

In the midst of heartbreaking trauma, something incredible happened.

Four women stepped forward to steer the team through the crisis. Sandie Lourenco (president), Laura Cunningham (vice president), Jennifer Fabing (treasurer), and April Cerda (secretary) took on leadership roles despite barely knowing one another. They worked to mend the team’s broken spirit and its finances, addressing issues they did not create.

“We didn’t have time to fundraise or do anything,” Cunningham said, sharing that the team had three days to come up with the money, or else they would have to forfeit their spot. “We needed the money quickly.”

The women managed to secure a private loan so that all athletes’ accounts are paid and eligible to perform, but as Fabing said, “That loan was just to get the girls to New York,” leaving additional expenses such as the bus to and from the hotel, food, and spending money still needed.

Which means committing to a daunting amount, by some standards, of fundraising—but for these girls—and the girls on the other Inferno Cheer squads that also took a financial hit—it’s worth it.

However, even as the excitement of new uniforms and jackets from Spirit of America helped buoy spirits, the emotional devastation of such a betrayal continues to cut deep.

While the community has rallied around the victimized athletes, there’s an undercurrent of mistrust that the newly formed board has worked tirelessly to ease, from requiring four signers on the account before any funds can be withdrawn to using sites such as for donations and offering complete transparency with monthly reports to parents.

Still, at the end of the day, the hurt runs deepest through the athletes who were betrayed by an adult they loved.

“I can speak for my daughter; she lost someone she thought was a mentor, a friend, someone who really encouraged her to be the best cheerleader she could be … from an emotional standpoint … it’s just a roller coaster of emotions—anger, sadness, and disappointment,” Lourenco said. “I think it’s all wrapped up into everyday life for her right now.”

Fabing agreed, emotion clogging her voice. “I watched them at practice today … I was extremely proud of them … they’re hurt, but they’re trying to move forward as best as they can. They’re in a lot of pain. As a team, they’re fighting to go forward … they are Inferno; they are the athletes; they are the talent; and they’re full of heart, working their butts off.”

The athletes leave for New York the weekend of Nov. 17-18.

Donations can be made to the team’s Givebutter account at

For more information or to send a check, contact Sandie Lourenco at 209-204-0694 or Laura Cunningham at 209-480-9240.