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Blue Raider standout Jaelen Thompson ready for Big 33 game, but MAHS cheerleaders are rooting against him

By David Barr davidbarr@pressandjournal.com
Posted 6/16/17

Middletown Area High School cheerleaders Abby Yohn and Cameron Johnson will be on the sidelines at Saturday’s Big 33 football game. But they will be cheering against a fellow MAHS …

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Blue Raider standout Jaelen Thompson ready for Big 33 game, but MAHS cheerleaders are rooting against him

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Middletown Area High School cheerleaders Abby Yohn and Cameron Johnson will be on the sidelines at Saturday’s Big 33 football game. But they will be cheering against a fellow MAHS student.

Running back Jaelen Thompson will be the lone Middletown player participating in the game Saturday at Central Dauphin High School that pits prep stars from Pennsylvania vs. their Maryland counterparts.

The game will take place 7 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at Central Dauphin High School’s Landis Field, 4600 Locust Lane, Harrisburg. Tickets can be purchased at big33.org or at the gate.

In 2016, Thompson rushed for 1,605 yards and 19 touchdowns, set Middletown’s all-time career rushing yards with 3,940, was a finalist for the Mr. PA Football. At MAHS, the 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pounder played defensive back as well as running back.

He will attend Towson University in Maryland, where he plans to play running back.

“To be able to play in this game and represent Middletown is awesome and a great opportunity,” Thompson said.

Despite being from Pennsylvania, Yohn and Johnson will represent the Maryland squad. That state doesn’t send cheerleaders to the game.

Both used the term “weird” to describe having to cheer for players not only not from their school, but also not from their home state.

“It’s weird not being able to cheer for someone you went to school with,” Yohn said.

Many high school players who took part in past Big 33 games have gone on to professional careers in the NFL, including Herb Adderly, Joe Namath, Tony Dorsett, Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Ricky Watters and Ben Roethlisberger.

Thompson said he didn’t grow up watching the Big 33 game, but he had heard about it throughout his high school career. It wasn’t until this season that he thought maybe he could make the roster, so that was one of the goals he set for himself this season.

Thompson said there’s one thing that he’s looking forward to most and that’s “having fun and coming home with the win for Pennsylvania and representing Middletown.”

Practice had been conducted this week under muggy and humid conditions, particularly early in the week, but for Thompson, he dealt with the heat by convincing himself it wasn’t as hot as it actually was.

Perhaps the only thing hotter than the temperature was the level of competition on the practice field, because Thompson is playing with about 30 or so of the best Pennsylvania high school players and some of the best coaches in the state. That meant a chance to learn and observe from among the best.

“It’s great to compete with guys at my level,” Thompson said, adding that practicing with them will prepare him for competition in college. Given how good the other players are, Thompson said that he had to work on the “little things” in practice and take the extra step to stand out to the coaches throughout the week.

Thompson wasn’t selected as a starter for the game.

As for the best player on the Pennsylvania team, Thompson singled out Audley Isaacs, a linebacker from the Valley Forge Military Academy who will play for Temple University in the fall. Isaacs is very athletic and physical for a linebacker his size, Thompson said. The Big 33 roster has Isaacs listed at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds.

Yohn and Johnson auditioned for a cheerleader roster spot in December and the results were announced in January. Around 200 auditioned and less than 70 were selected for the game. Practices began this week on Monday, with the girls learning their cheers and routines for the halftime performance. Both Johnson and Yohn serve as base members, meaning they are one of the girls on the ground, holding one of their teammates up in the air, before catching them.

Despite cheering for the Maryland team, both Johnson and Yohn are excited and looking forward to the entire experience, particularly the halftime performance.

Lower Dauphin cheerleaders Delaney Garcia, Kayla Gilbride and Kimberly Rodemaker also are taking part, representing the Pennsylvania squad.

Prior to the game, there will be a Fan Experience & Awareness Festival, free pre-game activities at Landis Field from 3 to 6:30 p.m. This will be a festival with various games, inflatables, food trucks, entertainment and many booths, providing special emphasis on social services for families and featuring educational and prevention services. 

This is the fifth straight year for a Pennsylvania-Maryland matchup in the Big 33 game. Recent games have been played at Hersheypark Stadium.

The financially troubled Big 33 Scholarship Foundation closed its doors last year, and the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners pledged $100,000 in tourism dollars, funded from hotel room taxes, to ensure the game would continue. The commissioners worked with the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association, which took over the Big 33 Football Classic.

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