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Druley: St. Charles North drill team to enliven Liberty Bowl

Unpredictability often reigns in college football bowl matchups, especially those lying outside the Bowl Championship Series umbrella.

Today's Liberty Bowl game between Rice and Mississippi State (3 p.m., ESPN) figures to fit that mercurial mold, extending even to the high school drill teams set to perform at halftime.

St. Charles North is among a handful of student groups that will take the field at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn., after coach Nancy Prentiss fielded a surprise phone call in the spring.

At the other end was a representative from WorldStrides, an organization specializing in educational student travel. Still at issue was who recommended the North Stars for New Year's in the mid-south.

"I'd like to think we have a good reputation," Prentiss said. "Our dance program has been successful through the years. It's nice that the girls are getting such a wonderful chance."

A contingent of 23 North Stars varsity and junior varsity dancers and their families left by bus for Memphis on Saturday, embarking on the beginning of the end of a whirlwind stretch.

North recently opened its IHSA competition season on the heels of a handful of goodwill community events, including a turn as co-hosts of a Christmas party at Geneva's Living Well Cancer Resource Center.

Of course, fine-tuning two new dances for today's performance – choreographed by Dee Caspary of "So You Think You Can Dance" fame – proved the highest-profile checkmark on the itinerary.

"We had to cram in a lot of different activities, but the girls worked really hard to be able to do everything and get all their dances done and did great at their competition," Prentiss said. "It was busy and a little bit hectic at times, but we managed to make it all work."

North's docket was no less packed once it arrived in Memphis. Activities included practices and a master's class led by Caspary. The team and its family members were set to attend Monday's Bulls-Memphis Grizzlies game, and North Stars dancers also will be part of a parade down Memphis' iconic Beale Street before kickoff today.

Prentiss said the WorldStrides rep also invited North to perform at the Indianapolis 500 auto race in May, but she declined.

Planning for and coordinating efforts with North's athletic department and boosters for the Liberty Bowl trip already was going to be a challenge.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to be a part of," Prentiss said. "Something very fun and different, and the chance to perform in front of thousands of people, something they've never done before."

If the North Stars uncover the person – or people – who paved the way for this exposure, they're likely to return the applause.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

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