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Behind the scenes of a cheer coach

Cheer alumna aims to change the image of cheerleaders one team at a time

Ellersick+poses+an+example+of+a+cheer+motion+for+the+team.
Ellersick poses an example of a cheer motion for the team.

Ellersick poses an example of a cheer motion for the team.

Ciara Laney

Ciara Laney

Ellersick poses an example of a cheer motion for the team.

By Ciara Laney, Hawkeye staff

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When cheer coach Jessica Ellersick went to high school,“Cheerleaders were the cool girls. They were the ones to go to parties.” Back in the early 2000s, many cheerleading teams weren’t as competitive as they are now.

Times have changed since she started as a volunteer cheer coach in 2010, and became head coach in 2012 after Kim Stewart (Stew), MTHS Activities and Athletics Director, offered her the position.

Kellie Watson, current Secretary of the Sports Booster Club; and Melissa Reid, current President of the Sports Booster Club, also influenced her decision to accept the position.

“The year I became the volunteer coach I was helping with our Sports Booster Club with Kellie Watson. She is my mom’s best friend. She’s very close and needed help getting this Booster Club going, her and Melissa [Reid], so I was with them every step of the way pushing that.”

Ellersick, a 2004 MTHS alumnus, was on Pacific Storms Allstars Cheer her junior year and made the MTHS cheer team her senior year. Now, Ellersick hopes her cheerleaders get what she got out of cheer: “confidence, a sense of self-worth, skills for the future, skills for life.”

Seniors Sidney Brown and Rosa Park, who are two of the 2016-2017 cheer captains, have been impacted by Ellersick outside of cheer.

“A big thing that [Ellersick] impacted me with was my grades. When I first made the team I had a pretty low GPA, but throughout the year she has pushed me to go to school everyday and get good grades, to pass, and it has definitely changed my academics through the past two years,” Brown said.

Ciara Laney
Ellersick gives feedback while a stunt group practices.

Without cheerleaders, “football games and basketball games would definitely be different,” Ellersick said. Cheerleaders memorize a list of cheers before the school year starts so they will be prepared to make the atmosphere of any sports game more exhilarating. They also practice performing stunts for the football season, which build on to their competition routines later in the year.

“Not that we don’t have our Rowdy Rooters or people that could keep our crowd lively, but to have somebody putting themselves out there in front of a crowd leading those who are unsure to step out there is huge for setting the tone for our game,” Ellersick said.

Not only do our cheerleaders affect our sporting events, but “as far as our leadership goes in our school, I feel that our students would be lost without cheerleaders and ASB members leading them.”

Ellersick tries to guide the girls on her team and encourages them to go out of their way to be leaders. She wants all of the student body to trust the cheerleaders and be able to talk to them in a time of need in any aspect of their lives, such as if they forgot their locker combination or need advice.

“I’ve worked really hard since I started coaching to change people’s outlooks [on cheerleaders],” Ellersick said. She hopes more people will respect cheerleaders and see them as leaders of the community.

Aside from being a cheer coach, Ellersick manages the bar at Big E Ales and Acura Lynnwood. Her family consists of her; her husband Steve; her daughter Aubrey; her son Landon; and a baby boy who is due around the Fourth of July.

Balancing her family life and many jobs can sometimes be difficult for Ellersick. She has her children come with her to practices as much as possible, but when it’s close to an important event, such as state competitions, her mother becomes her “savior” and will watch her kids for her.

“Believe it or not, those girls come before a lot of things in my personal life,” Ellersick said. “I just want to teach them dedication. If I’m not dedicated to them, then how can I expect the same thing from them? It’s hard, but I prioritize, and try to keep them near the top.”

Ellersick finds motivation for being a cheer coach after seven years in that “it keeps me sane. I love being around the girls. It’s my happy place. Having the influence on other people’s’ lives is also huge.”

She also thinks it is important to be “somebody for somebody.” Some of the people she coaches have rough personal lives, and Ellersick wants to be somebody they can look for when they need help or a person to talk to.

“She genuinely has taught me more about my life because there was some stuff that I was going through throughout the school year and she was really there for me,” Park said. “I’m glad she taught me the way that she did otherwise I would not have learned my lesson.”

Ciara Laney
Ellersick’s children, Audrey (left) and Landon (right) watch their mother as she coaches practice.

Yearly goals are set every year for the cheer squad. One way Ellersick plans her future year is by first thinking of competition season; then she needs “to backtrack throughout the year depending on what kind of squad I have as a start.”

Mackenzie Gardner, an MTHS alumnus who was on the cheer team from 2013-2016, said that Ellersick “pushed us a lot at practice, but she didn’t push us past our breaking point. She was always calm. She would always be tough on us during practice because she knew what we were capable of. During competitions, I just remember her being calm even if we were mad at ourselves for what we did.”

During Gardner’s time as a cheerleader, they placed sixth (2014), fifth (2015) and third (2016) in state. Not only was Gardner successful in her high school career, but “because of  [Ellersick], I have more self discipline, which has helped me during college,” Gardner said. “She’s a good coach, and she’s [made] my love for cheer grow.”

One specific goal Ellersick has for this upcoming 2017-2018 season is to make the current squad as good as last year’s.

“They have the motivation for it, they have the drive, last year’s squad had the skill with all the 3rd years that I had, but my goal for this year is to get all these new girls feeling like they are just as good as any of my returners from last year who left,” Ellersick said.

Last season Ellersick struggled because she wasn’t “used to having more than half the girls needing a push.” This year, there were many seniors on the team who needed motivation. That may have been a challenge, but the team pushed hard and won third place in the 2A/2A Non-Tumbling Medium division of the 2017 Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) State Cheerleading Championships.

Motivation isn’t the only thing Ellersick worries about while coaching.

“Parents can be really difficult. I mean I am one, so I totally understand the love and mama bear mode that parents get into but I just feel like once they’re in highschool and especially once they’re a junior and senior, parents have to kind of push their kids to deal with problems on their own a little bit more than they do,” she said. “They can make or break a year and just one parent can do it.”

Ellersick recovers by “venting and getting advice from other staff and coaches in the school.” Her mother is a manager at Boeing and knows how to get Ellersick through the rough times. Ellersick also goes to Stew and Julie Schwab, the school psychologist, for advice.

“Sometimes just hearing that other coaches are going through the same thing as you is enough to get you through a certain situation,” Ellersick said.

Her team recovers by having “family talks.”

“We all sit down and we hash things out; come up with a game plan, like what’s our goal [and] how are we going to get through this,” Ellersick said. “I think that honesty and communication is the most important thing.”

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The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.
Behind the scenes of a cheer coach