A tribute to Lauren Chang has been posted on the Energized Athletics web site.
Less than a week after cheerleader and Newton North High School graduate Lauren Chang died, hundreds of cheerleaders and their parents and friends gathered at the Jamfest event in Springfield Saturday.
Jamfest attendants held a moment of silence for Chang the afternoon of the competition. The music was shut off and parents hushed laughing and shouting children in the packed hall of the Mass Mutual Center. Afterwards, an announcer called for a round of applause and the hall exploded with sounds of clapping. Chang's teammates, who were overseen throughout the competition by an entourage of protective parents, huddled together.
Team members wore buttons with a picture of Chang taken from her MySpace web page.
"It's definitely been rough for them," said Kim England, the owner of Energized Athletics, the Watertown gym where Chang trained. "You've got to understand. They all turned around and saw what was happening. They saw her on the floor."
England said the two Energy Cheer teams turned their grief into fuel for the Jamfest competition.
"I am amazed, really," she said. "I don't think they did it for themselves. They did it for her."
Dannie Halloran, of Boston, was weeping as he left the convention hall. He did not perform on Sunday with Chang because he was suffering from a herniated disc, he said.
"She was the most important person on the team," he said. "She was definitely the face of our gym."
England said gym members and their parents have been supportive of her. No one has pulled out of the gym or expressed fears about safety. Rather, she said, they've shown solidarity.
"Everyone's pulled together. It's just amazing," England said. "We've gotten so much support today. Remember, we are competing against each other."
The event drew 2,000 spectators and 2,000 competitors over the course of two days, organizers said.
Two Extreme Cheer Teams made up of younger kids from the Energized Atheltics gym in Watertown, all under the age of 13, performed Saturday afternoon at Jamfest at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield. Wearing black, purple and gold uniforms, the eight girls and one boy performed various gymnastic cheerleading moves to a cheering crowd, some of whom were wearing t-shirts depicting Lauren Chang's face.
Chang's squad, referred to as the "open team" and comprised of older more experienced cheerleaders, did not perform, parents said.
"The open team is here to support the two teams we have," said a parent who declined to give her name.
Casey O'Connell, 17, of Watertown, who was wearing a memorial t-shirt but who did not perform that day, said Chang was one of her best friends. She knew Chang for four years, she said.
"She was truly an amazing person," O'Connell said. "She was always happy. She touched everyone who walked into that gym."
O'Connell said Chang was empathetic and a role model for younger cheerleaders in the group.
"If someone was crying and sad with something, and needed help, she would [help]," O'Connell said. "If someone had trouble with their tumbling, she would help."
Many parents were relunctant to talk about the incident. They said the younger children in the squad were having difficulty dealing with Chang's death.
"Some of them are holding up well, some of them are breaking down in tears," said Angela, a parent who declined to give her last name.
Some of the reluctance stemmed from the fact that Chang's friends and teammates still don't know exactly how the injury she suffered during a routine led to her death.
"We really don't know what happened yet," O'Connell said, "so we're not going to give out any kind of false info."
-- John Dyer