Cheering opens whole new world for longtime WC music, choir boss

Published 12:02 pm Monday, August 16, 2010

When Nancy Robertson told a colleague she wanted school to be a little different this year, she had no idea she was going to get her wish.

Robertson, a 30-year music teacher and choir director whose students have won numerous awards and contests, was appointed Warren Central High School’s varsity football cheerleader coach July 29 — a week before school started and less than a month before Friday’s Red Carpet Bowl kicks off the fall football season.

Robertson never coached cheerleading before, and in her own high school years was not a cheerleader. As she enters her 15th year at WCHS, however, she’s excited about her newest challenge.

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“I have enjoyed these girls, and the parents are wonderful,” Robertson said. “They have been incredibly supportive.”

Robertson knows she has a lot to learn in taking over the 20-girl squad made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors. She took a required online safety course on concussions, is CPR-certified and is in the process of registering to become certified by the American Association of Cheerleader Coaches and Administrators, another required step.

She’s also got former coach Clara Grantham’s phone number on speed dial, she joked.

“She’s very enthusiastic,” Grantham said. “It’s going to take her a little while to get her feet on the ground, but she’s going to be fine.”

“We just love her so much,” said one of the sophomores on the squad. Parents feel the same way.

“We are ecstatic,” said Kim Fuller, president-elect of the WCHS cheerleading boosters, newly formed to support the squad and raise funds for expenses. “She brings 30 years of teaching experience to it. She can handle the attitudes among all the kids on the squad. And she has the heart for it — she cares for the girls and her sincerity is out there for them to see, so they know she cares about them.”

Grantham, who had coached the varsity football cheerleaders for the last 18 years, retired in June. The teacher who accepted the job stepped down after only a week, citing schedule conflicts. It meant a scramble to fill the spot at the last minute.

Robertson had considered taking on the role before the other teacher was appointed, and was approached again by Warren Central principal Rodney Smith.

She’d already given it a lot of thought and prayer, she said, and told him, “I’ll give it my best shot.”

Robertson was appointed by Vicksburg Warren School District trustees a week before school started, though not without argument and opposition.

“Cheerleading is the most dangerous sport,” said District 5 trustee Tommy Shelton. “I’m worried about her having the time to do it, and about safety.” He argued that it would be better not to have a football cheering program than to try to put extra demands on an already-busy teacher with no experience coaching cheerleaders.

Other trustees disagreed. “It’s not the first time you’ll get a cheerleader coach without experience,” said District 1 trustee Jerry Boland, who, like Shelton, has a daughter who was a WCHS cheerleader. “You have to have somebody. They have to be certified, which she is. The girls are going to have to be there cheering.”

The board voted 4 to 1 to appoint Robertson.

Grantham said safety is always an issue, but the experience or inexperience of the coach is not necessarily a part of it.

“There are injuries in cheerleading, but you can be standing right there and have years of experience and somebody can get hurt,” she said. “It happens.”

Fuller cheered in high school and as a senior went to a national competition. She said she is not worried about her daughter’s safety, though as a flyer on the squad she’s frequently involved in high-flying stunts. Everyone on the squad understands a basic rule, she said: No one lands on her head.

“The thing with cheerleading is, you just have to impress upon the girls over and over again the safety issue,” Grantham said. “You teach them spotting religiously. You tell them, you may end up with a black eye, but you can’t let that flyer fall. That’s your job.”

Robertson said WCHS cheerleaders do not attempt some of the most dangerous stunts. “They do lifts and they do basket catches, but not tosses.”

Shelton’s other concern, that Robertson would not have time to manage both Warren Central’s choral programs and a cheerleading squad, was addressed with the rehiring of WCHS choir assistant Daniel Vernon, as well as the fact that this is the off year for WCHS in the annual holiday madrigals’ performance, Singe Feast, in which the two local high schools alternate participation.

Just as Warren Central’s football players have been practicing, the cheerleaders too are ready for the Red Carpet Bowl, which the Vikings will open at 6 p.m. Friday versus Ocean Springs at Vicksburg High School.

“They have already learned all their cheers,” Robertson said. “They just need to brush up on them.” The girls also have to paint the goalpost signs the team runs through to start each game, and they’ll be getting ready for pep rallies in the final days before football season begins.

“And we’ve got a secret or two,” Robertson added. “We have a few new fun things people are going to want to come and see that we’re not letting on about.”