LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- A high school cheer team in Manhattan has qualified for Nationals in Florida, but they're looking for help in their fundraising efforts to get there.
When high school freshman Arianna Alois lost her older sister in October, she felt like she lost the only person who understood her.
"It was really hard because my sister was a mother figure to me," cheerleader Arianna Alois said. "Even though I have a mom who cares about me. She was more like a mother figure, and I could go to her about anything, and she was kind of my person."
Her sister left behind two sons, a 1-year-old and a 6-month-old, after she was struck and killed by a truck near Prospect Park.
For Alois, a surprising safe haven for coping with her loss has been the sport of cheerleading.
The Seward Park cheer team became an unexpected family she could turn to in her grief.
"I thought when I first got here, I wouldn't get so close to anybody really fast, but it was actually the opposite," Alois said.
Now together, Alois and the team are on a mission.
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Last year, they made history as the first campus team in Manhattan to qualify for a national cheer competition in Orlando, Florida. This year, they've earned another chance and are ready to prove they're not a one-hit wonder.
But the biggest hurdle in their way is the price tag. Cheer is not recognized in the city as a sport and receives little to no sports funding.
The young women on the squad recognize the systemic inequity.
"It's kinda disheartening because I feel like if we get down to the soul purpose of why cheerleaders don't get funding in New York State, it's mainly because of misogyny and a lot of people I speak to have misconceptions about cheerleading," cheerleader Grace Ayodele said.
For any doubters, all they need to do is look at the strength, discipline, perseverance, skill and trust the cheerleaders put into this.
They train 3.5 hours a day, four days a week at the Seward Park campus on the Lower East Side.
"Nationals or competitions in general are pretty stressful so for our team, in order to feel ready not only physically, there needs to be mental preparation," coach Giana Quinterno said. "So that's working on our communication within the team, it's working on developing leadership. Honestly dealing with stress. I think stress management is a huge thing for anyone athlete."
In order to make it to Nationals though, they'll need to raise $30,000 in less than a month.
It's a small price, if you think about it, to support a team that does more than cheer.
"There have been times where I haven't felt very motivated to sit there and go through a whole practice and Gianna will talk to me and use it as an outlet to get my feelings out kind of," Alois said. "Like all the stress or sadness and anger I have, to just leave it all on the mat and to express myself through cheer."
The team has set up a GoFundMe page, which you can contribute to, to help make their dream a reality.
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