River girls help friends of tragedy victim

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 18, 2005

When Nansemond River cheerleading coach Vickie Stewart got home last Thursday, her son was waiting for her.

He showed her a tape he’d made of the day’s news, and they sat down to watch it.

Stewart learned about Ashley Burns, 14, of Medford, Miss. The day before, the cheerleader had been performing a stunt with her team. A flyer (a performer that gets thrown into the air and caught by her teammates), Burns apparently landed on her stomach in her teammates’ arms – flyers aim to land on their backs – and complained of abdominal pain. She’d been taken to a hospital and died of internal injuries.

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&uot;I was devastated,&uot; Stewart said. &uot;My heart just went out to her coaches, her team, everyone. I can’t imagine if we lost a squad mate.&uot;

Nearly a year ago, they almost did; captain Christina Maupin was in a car accident just outside of the school and spent weeks in a coma before awakening, and eventually recovering.

The next day, Stewart went into practice and told her girls of Ashley’s tragedy.

&uot;I told them to keep her in their prayers,&uot; she said. &uot;Hands immediately started going up.&uot;

The group wanted to do something to help Ashley’s friends and family. Remembering the cards of support the Lady Warriors received after Maupin’s accident, Jennifer Stone thought the team could do something similar.

&uot;Another school sent us cards thinking of Christina,&uot; Stone said. &uot;We got them about a month afterward. It made us feel loved that people recognized how hard it was for us.&uot;

A few days later, the squad set about fixing up the cards. Using markers, construction paper, glitter and other artistic offerings, they created more than 20 cards to send to Medford.

&uot;We feel your pain,&uot; one said. &uot;Keep Ashley in your spirits.&uot;

&uot;Medford, you will always be in our hearts,&uot; said another. &uot;Your cheerleader is a star in the sky.&uot;

Drawing her own card, fellow flyer Darnay Woolston reflected on the potential dangers of cheering.

&uot;It was scary, because we know to take really strict precautions,&uot; she said. &uot;If you don’t, bad things can happen. I’m definitely going to have (the accident) in the back of my head from now on. I’ve told my bases (those who catch flyers) to let me know what we’re doing so we don’t injure each other.&uot;

By Wednesday afternoon, the cards, along with a megaphone, cheering flag and other school spirit objects were ready to be sent. Captain Jessica Maddox looked over the group of gifts about to head north.

&uot;I was shocked to hear about what happened,&uot; she said. &uot;For them to lose a girl was terrible. I tried to build up their confidence; I told them that when they cheered, they should do it for her, and to keep her in their spirits. That’s something she’d want them to do. I hope it makes them happy knowing that people really cared about her.&uot;