HILLSBOROUGH: Local gymnasts whoop it up during Super Bowl halftime

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From left

Girls were part of the Bruno Mars halftime show

By Bev McCarron, Special Writer
   Those people who snagged spots on the field during the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza aren’t there by accident.
   They are casted fans, and five gymnasts and coaches from the Somerset Valley YMCA gymnastics team were lucky enough to be among them on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
   ”When I found out I was going, I was so excited. I woke my mom up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep,” said Brionna Hawkins, of Somerville, who has been on the Y gymnastics team for 15 years.
   Brionna, Dorisa Rodney of Raritan and Juliana Martinez and Isabela Brooks, both of Somerville, have long been teammates on the Y gymnastics team and were thrilled to be going together to the Super Bowl XLVIII with the Y’s Somerville branch’s gymnastics head coach, Rachel Covert, of Hillsborough.
   ”It was awesome. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Ms. Covert after the show.
   The chance to be a part of the first-ever New Jersey Super Bowl came about through Ms. Covert, who is also a dancer, and Amanda Grace, a former NY Knicks City Dancer, choreographer of the New Jersey Devil dancers and owner of Flair Dance Academy in Hillsborough.
        About a month ago, Ms. Grace received a phone call from Super Bowl casting committee, who found her resume on the Web. She was asked to bring her Hillsborough studio to be a part of the halftime performance with Bruno Mars.
   Representing Flair, the dancers had three 7-hour rehearsals in the week leading up to the Big Game.
      Ms. Grace asked Ms. Covert if any gymnasts 16 and older would want to be on the field during the performance.
   The girls had the right qualifications — lots of energy and the ability to cheer loudly — and they were among other groups, including school marching band members and dancers from studios across the state, placed on the field.
   They were positioned in the front, and were visible on TV, right after Bruno Mars’ drum intro. The girls were at the edge of the stage, jumping and pumping their fists, as they had been encouraged to do — “very easy choreography,” said Ms. Covert.
   Leading up to the big night, the girls had three practices of about 7 hours each. In addition to seeing the show live, they watched Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers rehearse.
   Dorisa, a peppy college student who has been with the Y gymnastics team for six years, said Bruno Mars was focusing on her during one rehearsal.
   ”When he sang ‘Locked out of Heaven’ during the rehearsal, he locked eyes with me and started singing to me. It was amazing!” said Dorisa.
   The show involved a lot of pyrotechnics and wires, so the practices were important to ensure everyone was safe during the show, according to Rachel.
   After the game, the girls were bused to an offsite location and celebrated by enjoying a meal with the other cast “fans” and receiving memorabilia.
   ”It was such an amazing experience from beginning to end and will forever be remembered by all who participated,” said Ms. Grace.
      Only one thing might have made it better, and that is if their favorite team had been in the game. Like many in North Jersey, all of the girls are big Giants fans.