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Orchard School performers wow S.C. Warriors crowd

Posted: Friday, Apr 12th, 2013

Orchard School students (or former students) performing at halftime on “giraffe unicycles” included, from left, Jack Isacson, Declan Lanyi, Mataya Bryson-O’Connor and Maverick Bettencourt. (Photos by Marc Shargel / www.LivingSeaimages.com)

SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz Warriors fans were treated to a mini circus put on by Orchard School students and alumni during halftime of the team’s last regular season game on April 6.

While the Warriors traded baskets with the Bakersfield Jam, 20 young performers, ages 5 to 16, geared up for their debut public appearance. The students and alumni from the Orchard School Circus Arts Program were the halftime entertainment for 3,000 rowdy Warriors fans.

As the players filed off the court at the end of the half, some were surprised to find themselves looking up at a petite, 13-year-old girl.

Eighth-grader and Orchard School alumna Bella Bettencourt offered high-fives to the players from her perch on 42-inch-high stilts before strutting onto the court followed by seven other kids, the smallest being Tyler Pennington and Audrey Thompson, both kindergarteners at the school in Aptos.

The kids waved colorful ribbons to greet the fans, still cheering for the Warriors. Before long, though, the crowd turned its attention to the young performers.

Stilt walkers made way for kids on unicycles, led onto the court by Alex Herman, 9, who circled the floor giving high fives to some courtside fans. Spectators went silent as each cyclist approached a double-sided ramp. Balancing on one wheel while pedaling up and over was the goal. Gasps and cheers followed each attempt.

Ending the halftime show on a high note, seventh-grade Orchard alumna Mataya Bryson-O’Connor led in a team of four kids, each on a “giraffe unicycle” — a Dr. Suess-like contraption comprised of a bicycle seat mounted on a five-feet-five-inch pole atop a single wheel. The riders braved the ramp and performed a choreographed routine before leading the troupe off the court to loud applause.

After the performance, the kids and their teacher/mentor Rock Lerum buzzed with adrenaline before returning to their seats to cheer for the Warriors and to revel in the sight of their own faces projected on the large screen above the basketball court.

“I got to walk on stilts in front of a bunch of people and show them my talents,” third-grader Kaleigh Pennington shouted over the cacophony of cheers, whistles and the chirps of sneakers on the court.

Lerum, who is an experienced professional clown and runs the Circus Arts program at Orchard School, was clearly thrilled to showcase his young charges in front of the Warriors’ crowd. “I’ve never even performed for a crowd this big” he said, “Experiences like these build self-esteem and confidence, and teaches kids to trust themselves. It opens up whole new worlds for them.”

“It was really fun, but nerve wracking,” Bella Bettencourt said, “You get really nervous, but then you get used to the crowd.”

Sixth-grader Lillian Wayne thought the crowd was really supportive and she appreciated their welcome. About Orchard School, Lillian said, “At some schools you have to change to fit in, but at Orchard you can just be who you are.”

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