Merritt makes second trip to Citrus Bowl as Blaze

Published 2:22 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Emma Merritt made the trip to Orlando, Florida for the second year to perform as the Maplesville High School mascot Blaze at the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1. Merritt, along with other mascots from around the country, performed a routine during pregame and halftime of the game between the University of Iowa and the University of Tennessee.

Merritt, a junior at Maplesville, made the trip to Florida with her parents and brother after being named an All-American mascot for the second consecutive year. She and her cheer team go to cheer camp every summer, and while there, they have the opportunity to tryout to be an All-American. Cheerleaders perform routines while mascots do skits, which is where they act out a situation or dance for the crowd.

“We did that tryout in front of all of the cheer coaches at the camp, and they scored us,” Merritt said. “If we score enough, then we make the All-American team.”

Merritt has been named an All-American the past two summers and earned a spot at the Citrus Bowl, which is the only option the All-American mascots have to go. She said her experience from the Citrus Bowl last season paid off a lot going into her second time this year.

“The first year was definitely chaotic because it was my first time ever having to learn a routine that fast,” Merritt said. “This year, going into it I knew what was going to happen and what I was going to have to do, and that definitely helped a lot preparing me and knowing I had to learn it in two or three days.”

Merritt learned both routines she had to do in a handful of days, and was placed in the first row towards the sidelines as Blaze took center stage.

“It is definitely always nerve racking because you are in front of thousands of people, and I was in the front row in front of everybody,” Merritt said. “It was very exhilarating, really fun and all of the people there were really nice and helpful throughout the whole performance.”

Merritt, now in her fourth year of being Blaze, said the beginning of her being the mascot came about by chance. While in eighth grade, her counselor asked her to be Blaze for one game, and she was very hesitant to do it at first.

“I ended up doing it, and now I have just stuck with it because it does give you a lot of open opportunities for a lot of things like college, I can get on staff at the cheer camps we go to,” Merritt said. “I really like interacting with all of the kids, making them laugh and doing funny things to them.”

At first, Merritt enjoyed being the mascot the first two years, but was not interested in anything after high school. Now, however, she is looking past high school when it comes to her future in being a mascot because of her experiences this with it this year, and the opportunities it can open for her.

“I definitely recommend people trying it out and experiencing it because it also helps people open up, and opens up their funny and creative side,” Merritt said. “There is so much stuff you can do as a mascot that you would not be able to do out of (the) suit, so I definitely recommend a lot of people to go for it to see how they like it.”

Merritt can be seen as Blaze at most Maplesville sporting events and school events for the Red Devils’ fans and students.