Competitive Cheer, Unified Track & Field
Favorite athlete: Simone Biles
Favorite team: Philadelphia Eagles
Favorite memory competing in cheer: My favorite memory competing in cheer, as funny as it sounds, has to be the bus rides home after a competition. The feeling of all coming together as a family and doing our best to make what we all love happen, no matter what place we receive, is the greatest feeling in the world.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in cheer: One of the funniest things that has happened during competitive cheerleading has to be when we were stunting in a huge pyramid, and the athlete all the way on the top kicked her leg up and her shoe went flying while she herself was in the air.
Music on playlist: My playlist consists mostly of pop and rap music, anything upbeat and energetic is my kind of music!
Future plans: My plan is to attend college and major in Communication Sciences and Disorders and minor in Sign Language to later become a Speech Pathologist. I am considering continuing either cheerleading or theater in college, but it truly depends on the programs offered at the school I decide on.
Words to live by: “Don’t miss out on something that could be great just because it could also be difficult”
One goal before turning 30: One goal that I have for myself before I turn 30 is to visit Scotland because I am Scottish, and it plays a big part of my family history.
By Mary Jane Souder
Ask Maddie Dunlop about her activities – in school and out, and the list is endless.
To name just a few, the Springfield Township senior is a captain of the cheerleading squad, the vice president of student council and the student representative to the Springfield Township school board. She is the dance captain for school musicals and is involved in unified track. It was Dunlop who kicked off the school year with one of the opening speeches at the virtual convocation for faculty and staff on Sept. 2.
“She reached absolutely the whole district – every teacher, every staff member, and her words were captivating,” said Nicolle Schrage, the unified track coach at Springfield Township. “She inspired everyone to get back into a school year after lots of remote learning and to dig deep. She was like, ‘Come on, let’s do this.’ She is a natural leader, and she does it intuitively.”
Interestingly, Dunlop would not be involved in any of those activities, nor would she find herself in a leadership role had it not been for a difficult decision she made when she entered high school. That’s when Dunlop decided to give up competitive dance.
“I competed every single day of my life,” she said. “I went to dance for hours on end, practically lived at the studio. I brought my breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I got home from school, that’s where I was at every single day, so I practically lived at the studio.
“My teachers were practically my moms at the time, so it was kind of my whole life. Everything was at the studio. I still went to Springfield but everything besides was at the studio.”
The decision to walk away from dance was not made without serious consideration.
“I actually ended in the middle of my eighth grade year,” Dunlop said. “I wanted to be in all the shows at the school, and after the high schoolers came down into the middle school to talk about all their clubs and activities, I found out that I wanted to explore a little bit more. Trying to hang out with my friends was difficult, so I was not really having as many friends in school as I was at dance.
“Based off friend relationships and wanting to excel at school but also wanting to engage in more activities was a struggle for me, so I realized that through the emotional ride of it that probably trying not to dance for a half year was the way. I took off the second half of the year hoping to find out if I wanted to jump back in dance freshman year.”
Dunlop made the decision to walk away from dance.
“It was a heartbreaking experience doing that,” she said. “There are times where I definitely do regret it, especially going back and watching my friends I used to dance with. My cousin, who continues to dance, was my best partner. We danced together every single year, and she still dances, so I do go back and watch her. Watching her without me by her side is a little heartbreaking.
“Now that I’m involved in cheer, I’m involved in every single show at school and almost 10 activities, I don’t have time for it. I’ve found other things that I love that complete me and my life as a whole.”
Springfield Township High School does not take Dunlop’s contributions for granted.
“She is super involved and helps the school whenever possible,” athletic director Joe Ferraro said. “Anytime we are looking for student input around the school, she is the go-to kid for us.
“She is connected to our school community, and she has a great pulse for every student here. She speaks at our (school) board meetings, she meets with the superintendent, she regularly communicates with our administration at the high school. There isn’t a nicer kid on the planet.”
Dunlop became involved in competitive dancing when she was three years old. It turned out to be a perfect fit.
“I did every single type of dance you could possibly imagine,” she said. “I’ve been in group dances, solos, musicals – all that type of stuff, so I was very big into the arts.
“I tried soccer - my family is a huge soccer family. My dad is actually a coach in the city, but it was just not for me, so I stuck with dancing. I tried some other art things like sewing and all that stuff – also not for me. I was a big, big stage performer. I just loved the stage, loved the lights. I was that little diva. That was pretty much my childhood.”
Dunlop lived on the stage with dance competitions – most in Pennsylvania and New Jersey – a regular part of her life. She competed individually and with a team from her dance studio, also earning several trips to nationals. Life without dance was vastly different than life with it.
“Actually, once I started getting involved and trying clubs, I realized that they’re a lot more stress free, and I was able to do so many things that I wanted to accomplish, and they all led to different paths and different people,” Dunlop said. “Half the people I know today, I would not know.
“Freshman year I definitely did experience and did things like Youth in Government and things I never really thought I would do just to try and meet new people and make the friends I wasn’t necessarily coming with from eighth grade. I did have a little pack of friends, but I wanted to try and expand my friend group by trying new activities, which definitely was a positive idea.”
A new and unexpected passion entered the picture freshman year when she was pulled into cheer by friends – many a year older - who were in her circle during middle school and were part of the cheer squad.
“They knew I had a big dance background and knew I would be a good addition to their team, so they kind of started luring me in. I was like, ‘I’m not really sure about this whole cheer thing. I more just want to sing and act and do the musicals because that’s where I belong.’ I gave it a shot and I fell in love with it. It’s not something I ever expected to be doing. Year after year, it’s been like, ‘I have to do cheer, it needs to fit in my schedule.’”
As a freshman and sophomore, Dunlop was unable to participate in the cheer squad’s competitions because of her involvement in the school’s musicals.
“At our school, if you want to be on the competition team, you also have to cheer for basketball, so it’s a huge commitment if you want to do cheerleading for competition,” she said. “Last year was my first time competing for cheerleading. It was definitely a totally different experience than competition for dance. It was very, very fun. I definitely loved every second of it.”
Ariana Bernstein is in her second year as coach cheer at Springfield. Dunlop made an immediate impression.
“Right off the bat, she struck me as definitely one of the most mature juniors on the team, and she was a leader from day one,” the Spartans’ coach said. “It was never a question she was going to be named a captain this year, and I actually named her one of the captains last week. I don’t think it came as a surprise to anyone on the team.
“Maddie is extremely organized. She sometimes has a better idea of what’s going on and things I need to be doing than I do – but always in a good way. She is extremely kind and respectful. She is just an absolute joy to have at practice. In the winter season, I lose her for a little bit because she does the musical, but she comes back to do the competition practices because she loves it so much. The practices she’s not there – it’s definitely noticeable. She’s a great addition to have on my team.”
Dunlop’s plan is to continue competition this year, but it will depend on her part in the show, which this year is The Little Mermaid.
Dunlop’s other school involvements include several of Springfield’s choir groups. She is also involved in a service club called Interact. She is the 2021 Miss Oreland Lions.
“I’m the face of the community, so I do a lot of service with them,” she said.
As student representative to the school board of Springfield Township, she oversees four schools.
“I talk to everyone about any problems, what schools are doing each week and month and report it back to the families on our school board nights,” Dunlop said.
Unified track and field – which allows students with disabilities to compete alongside those who don’t – has been another of Dunlop’s activities since freshman year.
“I never liked running – it was one of my big secrets,” she said with a laugh. “I would rather – I don’t even know what, but I don’t like running, so I kind of did it for my friends that I met in the hallway and some of my classes.
“I want to be a speech pathologist, so I love working with special ed children and love just helping out in general. It’s two days a week in the spring, so I made it fit in my schedule, and they worked with me. It just created different bonds that I wouldn’t usually get in the classroom.”
Dunlop’s involvement goes well beyond the unified practices and meets that are held each spring.
“Maddie has also taken leadership for our Unified Club, which helps unite all students across our whole school community,” said Schrage, who spoke on behalf of herself and Unified coach Allie Proto. “Maddie is a natural leader, and with that leadership, she not only looks to be a part of her school community, but she also looks to build up her community. She brings out the best in everyone around her.
“She doesn’t hesitate to push herself out of her comfort zone. She sees it as a building block for her future.”
Dunlop’s future will include attending college and majoring communication sciences and disorders in with a minor in sign language. Cheer may or may not be part of her future.
“I really hope so, but I’m not sure – it’s either going to be cheer or theater,” Dunlop said. “It really depends on the school I’m going to.”
Outside of school, Dunlop loves to lift and is a regular at Relentless, an all-girls’ lifting gym.
“It’s strength training to bring into my cheer life,” she said. “It helps a lot with the foundation of cheerleading. This year we’re actually bringing it into the school, so on Mondays we’re going to start core training and lift training.”
Dunlop somehow finds time to work for a cycling studio in Flourtown that does yoga, Pilates and cycling called Chestnut Hill Cycle Fitness. She also babysits during the school year and is a nanny during the summer.
Schrage, for one, can’t imagine how different life would be if Dunlop had not chosen getting involved in school over competitive dance.
“One choice you make that’s so difficult and how it opens up so many additional doors,” she said. “She gave herself the latitude to be available to those opportunities.”
Schrage has just one question – “When does she sleep?”
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