Putting the lead in cheerleading

From teaching gravity-defying stunts to providing emotional support, cheerleading coaches Stephanie Watkins and Marissa Torres plan to take the Walnut High School cheerleading team to great heights.

Watkins graduated from Walnut High School in 2009 and participated in dance and colorguard throughout her high school years. After graduating, she became an instructional aide and teacher at West Covina High School before coming back to Walnut High to teach special education and cheer in October 2018.

“I’ve always wanted to come back to Walnut because I really enjoyed it as a student. That’s always been a goal of mine—to come back and teach at the school that gave me my education,” Watkins said. “I was really excited to be able to coach cheer so that I could work alongside Marissa and be able to go to different events with her.”

Watkins met Torres during high school and was on the same color guard team as her. Torres graduated from Walnut High School in 2006 and participated in volleyball, cheerleading and dance in addition to colorguard. Now, the pair coach cheerleading together, and Torres works alongside Watkins as an instructional aide in her special education class.

“I really enjoyed cheerleading when I did it in high school, so our main goal for this school year is to make sure that the girls have a really great year and that they’re able to get a good experience with cheer,” Torres said. “I think that a lot of that falls on us to just be a good coach for them.”

Since October, Watkins and Torres have been making sure that the girls’ cheers are sharp, clean and loud. During practice, they mainly work with cheerleaders on choreography, stunts and conditioning exercises such as running and stretching. The team hopes to improve their stunts and dances for future performances and pep rallies.

“I don’t think [the girls] are ever afraid. I’ve never seen any fear from them. It takes a lot of trust to be up in the air, [to] trust that someone will not drop you,” Watkins said. “They can be tossed up in the air and just know that their sisters will be there to catch them, so I think the neatest part is to be able to see the trust there.”

The two plan to build camaraderie and communication among team members through bonding events, as well as through consistent meetings and check-ups.

“Before we took on the coaching position, we know there hadn’t been [a consistent coach]. Now that there’s consistency and routine, there’s definitely more cohesiveness,” Watkins said. “We’re like family; we fight, we laugh, we cry, but there’s definitely more of the routine component. We almost feel like their moms.”

In addition, they also strive to teach their cheerleaders applicable life skills, such as being a strong leader and the benefits of conquering obstacles with a positive mindset. In order to achieve this, they encourage the girls to take charge of situations and train captains to manage the team on their own.

“Our head captains know how to take control of the team, so it’s nice to know that if we have to take a break real quick, they are in control of [them] and are able to direct them just as if we were there,” Watkins said. “We also tell the girls how important it is to stay positive. A huge aspect of cheerleading is just knowing how to encourage others. They have to [take] that mindset of cheering from the sidelines of the bleachers or the track and apply it to real life.”

By Angela Naseri, Staff writer
Photo by Erin Tan