A Hometown Welcome

Just a small-town girl, living in a world of her dreams, rookie Thunder Girl Sarah got a hometown welcome on Friday that she never could have imagined.

It’s almost the start of a Journey song, but not quite.

“It’s crazy … it doesn’t seem real,” Sarah said on Friday as she got a big-hearted welcome home from the town of Cyril.

In part, Friday’s celebration was designed to honor Sarah’s achievement of becoming part of the Thunder Girls squad. But the city-wide event, which also welcomed fellow Thunder Girls Alexis and Helen, was also designed to show the children of the town that they should never give up on their dreams.

“I’ve always wanted to be a dancer,” Sarah said. “It’s really exciting that I made the Thunder [Girls] because now I’m pursuing my dream.”

You could say that she didn’t stop believing.

Growing up in a town of about 1,200 residents, Sarah was grateful to be part of a close-knit community that allowed her to have a deeper relationship with her grandparents. However, it meant that she didn’t have as many opportunities to work on her lifelong goal of a career in dance.

“She spent usually four days a week going to Oklahoma City for dance,” said Sarah’s mom Nela. “But that’s what she lived for – she enjoyed that more than anything else.”

As she got older, Sarah decided to offer lessons herself so that other girls in Cyril didn’t have to make the hour drive back and forth to the city.

“At a young age, I knew I wanted to teach kids dance,” she stated. “My freshman year of high school, I opened up a studio. One of the churches let me use their gym, and I taught my freshman through junior year.

“It was really fun. I still talk to those girls to this day.”

Sarah’s continued connection with her hometown was evident on Friday as the entire city seemed to erupt with pride over what she’s already accomplished.

Businesses along the main street put up balloons and hand-drawn signs welcoming Sarah and the Thunder Girls. Elementary school children waved letters that spelled “Sarah rocks” and lined up to get autographs from the squad.

And when she entered the elementary school gymnasium where the day’s main event, an all-school rally, took place, the cheer she got – well, it went on and on and on and on.

The warmth and excitement meant even more since this was a dream Sarah almost didn’t realize.

“Last year she tried out [for the Thunder Girls] and she didn’t make it,” noted Paul, Sarah’s dad. “She was disappointed – but Sarah’s one that she can fail, and it doesn’t bring her down enough to make her quit.”

It seems Sarah knows that some will win, some will lose. This year, she decided to roll the dice just one more time – and she tried out for the team again.

“She worked a lot harder at it this year,” said Paul. “She was in a lot better shape this year, and she was ready to rock.”

The town stayed behind her every step of the way.

When Sarah made the Thunder Girls final auditions this August, “the word didn’t spread – it boomed, quickly,” said Tammy Cocheran, Sarah’s high school English teacher and now the elementary school principal. “We knew she was trying out, and everyone in town had their computers out, everybody was Facebooking, they had their iPhones next to them … We were all connected that night.”

From the looks of it, all of Cyril has continued to hold on to that feeling when they found out Sarah made the squad.

Though that night was just the beginning for Sarah’s professional career, the people she’s known for years believe it culminated the years of hard work she’s put in – not just for herself, but for others.

“The students here – a lot of them took dance from her,” stated Cocheran. “She put a little seed of success in each and every one of them to help them believe in themselves.”

The confidence Sarah helped those kids find might just push them to greater heights, Cocheran believes.

“Yes, you’re from a small town – but yes, you can make it big,” she said.

With a welcome that rivaled anything the town could give for the biggest celebrity, Sarah feels like her dreams have already come true, even though she has yet to dance in an NBA game.

“I’m really excited. There’s so much love in the room right now – it’s amazing,” she said.

Sarah’s loved ones who didn’t stop believing in her agreed.

“It’s such a good feeling getting to see her do this,” added a beaming Nela.