On Feb. 23, 2019, Lilliana Schalck and her cheerleading team were just moments away from taking the floor during a competition in Orlando, Florida.
It was supposed to be a day of fun competition and performance, but Lilliana, 13, was not feeling like herself.
She told her coach and her dad that she was not feeling well, and her condition worsened so quickly that she was not able to compete. Instead, she was rushed to a local hospital where she was soon pronounced dead, just hours after complaining about her symptoms.
Family and friends were left baffled and heartbroken by the healthy, athletic teen’s sudden death.
The coroner later ruled Lilliana’s death was due to strep throat, which led to infection.
“Apparently, an underlying Strep infection overwhelmed her immune system with little or no warning, and catastrophic results,” Lilliana’s family said in a statement provided to ABC News. “We wouldn’t wish this nightmare on anyone.”
Lilliana had been so talented that she made the varsity cheer squad at her high school even though she was still in eighth grade. She also cheered with Premier Athletics Rouge in Kentucky, and dreamed of competing at the cheerleading World Championships with her teammates.
Head coach Brittany Sorrell was left to help Lilliana’s teammates work through their grief and said that her girls showed incredible resilience and heart as they worked harder than ever before to make Lilliana’s dream come true.
During the 2019 World Cheerleading Championships on April 24-26, Premier Athletics Rouge took the floor once again, this time, dedicating the competition to Lilliana.
Lilliana’s father, Dan Schalck, made the brave journey to watch his daughter’s team compete.
“He brought her jersey that she wore all season, so we folded the jersey, and that was actually center stage when the girls performed, so they felt like she was there,” Sorrell told WLWT.
“When they walked in, the arena erupted,” Sorrell said, fighting back tears.
The team performed at the exact same venue in Orlando that Lilliana was at before her death.
“There’s multiple venues at Worlds, but the one we just happened to perform at is the last one that she performed in, so if you want to talk about feeling chills in that arena when you’re getting ready, that’s where she was last,” Sorrell said.
Lillana, who showed complete dedication to cheerleading and hoped one day to cheer at the collegiate level, had always dreamed of placing in the top 10 at Worlds.
For the first time in the team’s history, Premier Athletics Rouge advanced to the finals and placed ninth in their division, fulfilling Lilliana’s dream.
In the midst of the hugs, screams and celebratory tears, Dan Schlack was glad he had made the difficult journey to attend without Lilliana by his side.
“She was extremely close to these kids, and I’m certain that they’ll carry this for, probably, forever,” Schalck said.
Schalck supported Lilliana in her cheerleading endeavors, arguably as her number one fan.
“I embraced everything she did. I seldom missed a practice,” Schalck said.
Schalck and Sorrell credited the team’s incredible success to Lilliana, believing that her life and death brought the team closer together and motivated them to work like never before.
“It just felt like someone else was there,” Sorrell said of the team’s competition that day. “That she was there making sure that her dream was carried on.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.