LHHS varsity cheer squad with Coach Alan Kirby (left) and their Banana Award

While many students were lounging by the pool this summer, the Lake Highlands High School cheer squads were busy attending UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association) camp at the University of North Texas to learn new routines for pep rallies and athletic events. The group was awarded first place in the large rally competition and second in cheer routine. Eight standouts earned All-American honors, including mascot Chloe Willis. The girls were most excited to win the Banana Award for having the most fun throughout the week.

Supporting the girls from the sidelines has been Alan Kirby, now beginning his first year as head cheer coach after serving 3 years as assistant. He teaches social media marketing at LHHS, and leads the cooperative education (co-op) marketing program, which enables students to incorporate hands-on job experience with educational curriculum.

Kirby found time to answer my questions between cheer camp and the squad’s rally for teachers at RISD convocation.

How did you become involved in cheerleading?

I started taking gymnastics when I was 10 years old and fell in love with the sport. I was a cheerleader at my high school, and I stayed in gymnastics until I graduated. I love gymnastics and cheer for many reasons. It is great for you mentally and physically, and I love how it challenges you. It is up to you to decide how much you learn and how good you get at it. Also, it is something that people love to watch and be amazed by. It’s fun knowing you can do something that not everyone else can do.

What did you do before you came to LHHS?

Before I got my certification to teach, I was an entrepreneur, a consultant and a manager of gymnastics and cheerleading clubs. I also coached for 30 years – primarily women’s gymnastics, but I also worked a lot with cheerleaders and cheer teams. I decided to quit coaching club gymnastics and cheer to start teaching high school. The hours and travel are tougher, the older I get. I miss it greatly, but I get my gymnastics and cheer “fix” coaching LHHS Cheer. Deep down, I knew I wouldn’t quit coaching completely. I barely made it a year before I was asked to help with the cheer squads.

Cheerleaders today are athletic. Are you coaching them to refine their “sport” or to support the team?

I am teaching them to be all around cheerleaders. We work on spirit, cheers, chants, jumps, stunting and tumbling. We are also working a lot on being a good cheerleader in their showmanship and their support of the sports teams and LHHS. I feel strongly that cheerleaders play an important role in the school as leaders and examples. If we aren’t good at what we do, the students have less school spirit, which can make a difference in the feel or impressions of the school. Our job is to be involved in as many things as we can to show and lead our students and staff to be prideful and excited about LHHS.

Cheerleaders today are sometimes hurt, incurring concussions and other injuries similar to other athletes on the field. How do you keep students safe?

It is very true that cheerleading can be dangerous, but with the right training and supervision, injuries can be prevented. We spend a lot of time in our practices talking about safety, along with learning the proper progressions and mastering them before moving on to harder skills. We also take precautions when learning new stunts to make sure we have extra spotters to help catch if stunts do fall.

Cheerleaders are often called upon to represent the school. Do you counsel them about living up to this responsibility?

Yes, we do talk a lot about being our school’s ambassador. I am always stressing to them that their fellow students and members of the community look up to them, and they should act and carry themselves in a positive way. They are representing LHHS and RISD, and they should act as if they are always “in the spotlight.”

In the old days, the student vote was a big part of the score when trying out. Does student vote count today? Should it?

Oh, the good old days! No, student vote is not part of the tryout process. Girls are scored by impartial cheerleading judges brought in on tryout day. I wouldn’t mind having a student vote category, but it should be a minor score. The student vote tends to be based on popularity. I want to have good quality cheerleaders.

LHHS has had some amazing pep rallies. How do you prepare for them?

This year, we are changing up our pep rallies to be more exciting to pep up the players and students for the games. Our new principal has asked the cheerleaders to plan and organize the pep rallies this year, and we have great things planned to increase the fun and student involvement.

Do you and your squad have any game day rituals?

We do have our things to do before a game, like hang paper signs at the stadium. New year, new squad new coach – time to start some new traditions while continuing the old traditions.

Kirby’s answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

If you’d like to support the cheer squad, MidiCi Italian Kitchen is hosting LHHS Cheer Spirit Day Aug. 28 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mention the Wildcats when you buy a wood-fired pizza or other entrée at their restaurant at Preston Hollow Village, Walnut Hill and 75, and they’ll give a percentage of your purchase back to the cheerleaders. The varsity squad is comprised of Alexandra Armer, Caroline Arnette, Natalie Duval, Lucy Hamilton, Jane Hamilton, Sally Jacobs, Kennedy Kluever, Ellis Martin, Hope Ponce, Katie Spaulding, Riley Grace Stallings, Eva Steglich, Piper Stilwell, Riley Templeton and Gracie Toombs. Chloe Willis is the mascot and Julia Bellew manages the team.

All-Americans Chloe Willis, Lucy Hamilton, Jane Hamilton, Hope Ponce, Sally Jacobs, Alexandra Armer, Lucy Kate Murray and Miranda Rinck