- Maize Early Childhood Center
Maize High Cheer’s ongoing support of Kansas veterans has led to local, state accolades – and even cheerleaders joining the military
Maize High School’s first home football game of the year is always Honor Flight Night, and this year will be no different. The tradition represents years-long support of a cause and organization that has become an important calling to Eagle cheer students and sponsors and has led to an official state proclamation, a recent community volunteerism award, and even cheerleaders enlisting in the military.
The Maize High cheerleading team has raised money to send U.S. veterans to Washington, D.C. for honor flights since 2016. They have funded 12 veterans for the flights and have welcomed home thousands of veterans returning from the trips. Maize High Cheer’s support goes beyond fundraising and homecoming: Five cheerleading alumni have joined the military since the team started the tradition.
Maize High School senior and cheerleader Liz Weimar said, “It’s something unique to us, and it’s become something very personal to our team, as well.”
The Kansas Honor Flight is an all-volunteer organization that works to honor Kansas veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War by providing them with an all-expense paid, three-day journey of honor and remembrance to visit memorials in Washington, D.C.
Maize High School Varsity Cheer Assistant Coach Jennifer White said, “Honor flights became really meaningful to our team because we’ve grown to understand that many veterans never received a proper welcome home. And now we make sure they do have a warm welcome home.”
Kansas Honor Flight also works to educate youth and communities throughout Kansas about the impact of the wars. Veterans who go on the flights view Washington, D.C. memorials, lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and witness The Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
Several cheerleaders have welcomed home grandfathers on the honor flights, White said. For Lauren Weidner and Jaidyn Stiverson, both seniors on the team, it’s personal because their fathers were both in the Army.
“I think being there is really special,” Stiverson said of welcoming the Honor Flights home.
During each ceremony, which takes place at a hotel near the airport, veterans are welcomed home by hundreds of their family members, friends, and community members, including Maize High School cheerleaders. The veterans are thanked for their service, as well. There are usually four flights a year from Wichita with anywhere from 80 to 100 veterans on each flight.
“It feels very emotional,” Weimar said. “We see a lot of veterans cry. I cry, (coach) Jen cries. It’s just a really sentimental and special feeling.”
The Kansas Honor Flight is part of the National Honor Flight Network, and is the No. 1 chapter of more than 130 chapters, sending more veterans on flights than other chapters nationwide.
The cheerleading team’s 50th welcome home took place on May 3, 2023. The Kansas State House of Representatives named that day the Maize Eagles Cheer Patriotism Recognition Day, a holiday made in their honor.
“Every welcome home is memorable, but that one was epic,” White said.
The Eagles cheerleading squad members were also recognized at the National Baseball Congress World Series in August, as they received the Terry Brewster Community Volunteer Award.
“It was a very humbling, really honorable thing to be a part of,” White said. “It was really cool for the community to see how we’re impacting our community.”
The seventh annual Kansas Honor Flight Night football game fundraiser is Friday, Sept. 1 at Maize High School, 11600 W. 45th St. North in Maize, against Topeka.
There will be a free concession meal voucher and a thank you gift for the first 50 veterans who arrive at the stadium. The gates open at 5:30 p.m., and veterans are encouraged to get there early. The Maize High cheerleaders will have a “miracle minute” during halftime, where a bucket is passed around to collect money from the crowd. Additionally, veterans are admitted to the game for free with their military/veteran ID.
The goal, White said, is to send one veteran per year on an Honor Flight. Last year, the cheerleaders raised $1,200 at the game for the Kansas Honor Flight. They have had other fundraisers throughout the week, as well.
White said the cheerleading team’s efforts to honor veterans do not go unnoticed.
“We even received a letter from a veteran that was about five pages handwritten. He talked about how, after all these years after Vietnam, that us being there, being present, taking time out of our day to be there, finally brought him home from the jungle,” White said. “To think that us taking that little bit of time out of our day to be there is helping someone from PTSD is pretty cool.”
One person who will be at the game is Emma Ables, a 2020 Maize High School graduate and cheerleading alumna who is now an Army reservist. Ables said being on the cheer team and welcoming honor flights home was part of the reason she decided to enlist, and she also said having family in the military was part of that decision.
She said she joined the military because she was looking for the close-knit, family feeling that being on the cheerleading team gave her, and she wanted that feeling after high school.
“I see the military as a family,” Ables said. “I got to keep something along the lines of that after leaving cheer.”