BRADENTON— A youth ministry of the Church at Bradenton, 2520 43rd St. W., literally allows young people to publicly cheer about their faith.
The ZOE All-Stars cheerleading team is composed of 18 girls and two boys. The team takes its name from the Greek word zoe, meaning life. Members pray backstage before practice and competitions.
They compete against mostly non-religion-based cheerleading teams and wear conservative costumes.
No tiny skirts, tiny tops or bare tummies are allowed.
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Their team motto is from the Bible, specifically Philippians 4:13.
After the team took first place at the Florida State Fair this year, team members, who range in age from five to 11, ran on stage and, in a totally unscripted moment, yelled out their motto in unison, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Jordana Terrell, 12, a ZOE team member and Electa Lee Middle School student, said team members want to win, but not at the expense of their faith.
“If you walked backstage at a competition and saw us, we might be praying or encouraging each other. We’re a big family,” Jordana said.
Parents and athletes give much of the credit for the character of the squad to Billie Wartenberg, cheering coach and director.
“Billie is fantastic,” said Teri Rader, whose daughter, Katie, 8, competes. “She has made a huge impact through her choreography, enthusiasm and love for kids. She goes over the top and gives 500 percent of herself.”
While the team has won its share of championships, it’s a whole lot more than just competitions, said parent Lynne Burrow.
“We exist to build happy, healthy, confident kids while maintaining an athletic environment,” Burrow said.
Team members are encouraged to love God and others, imitate Jesus, use the fruits of the spirit and encourage the team, Burrow said.
The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, Burrow said.
Wartenberg, who had to make the difficult announcement recently that she is leaving the program to go to a church in Oklahoma with her husband, believes in coaching kids with love, not an iron fist.
Karen Filips, whose daughter, Sara, 8, has competed for two years, states the ZOE philosophy succinctly.
“There’s enough hatred in the world that you don’t have to berate a kid,” Filips said.
“I love the way they talk to kids at ZOE. They make them work hard, but that is what you have to do in life. They teach them sportsmanship.”
Wartenberg got the idea for a cheer program at the Church at Bradenton while she was running a summer day camp at the church.
Children asked her to do something during the school year and, specifically, to use her background in cheerleading.
After Wartenberg started the program, she recruited her sister, Deborah Prochelo, to be an assistant coach, along with Wendy Jackson, Brittany Urban, Kelly Jones and Ashley Deal.
“They will take over,” Wartenberg said of Prochelo and the others.
“I am just so amazed at what God has done in the lives of these kids and families through this entire ministry,” Wartenberg said
“I know God is big and can do amazing things. But I had no idea how all of this would turn out.”
For more information or to enroll a child, contact Deborah Prochelo at 465-1549.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.