For four months, cheerleading has carried the family, said Jason Hansen, who takes every available opportunity to wear his "Cheer Dad" shirt. He has relished the sight of his daughter giggling and singing with her friends, just like any other teenage girl, while he enjoyed the chance to feel like other fathers.
"The biggest dream of a parent is to see their child succeed and succeed at what they love," he said. "I don't think I've ever been more emotionally tied to competition."
Meanwhile, Kennedy has become a talisman of encouragement for her teammates. "Do it for Kennedy," they whisper to one another and write on their shoes for luck. The season became about doing their best, doing what Kennedy can't, and chasing a different kind of reward.
And in return, the Hansens have committed themselves to love Kennedy's teammates as much as they have loved her. Ahead there are 27 graduations, 27 weddings and hundreds of milestone events that they intend to support, even after Kennedy has gone.
There are a few glum faces among the team for the first-place title that slipped away Saturday, but those moments are fleeting. Jason Hansen said he will never forget the sacrifice.
"(These) 27 girls unselfishly gave their whole year," he said. "Let's face it, if they would have had all the hours that they've put into Kennedy to be able to practice, I really don't think there would have been a question about who would have won. But what have they won? There's a different kind of prize."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: McKenzieRomero
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