- October 7, 2020
Standing on the sideline in matching blue and lime-green uniforms, members of the Horizon West Wolverines cheer team stand with their hands grasping pompoms.
On the field, the Wolverines are playing in their first tackle football games, and for the girls, it’s their first chance at cheering on the new team.
Some of the girls on this squad — which is the older of the two fielded by the organization — have previous cheer experience, while others don’t. Among those with experience are Addison Trimm, 11, and teammate Nylah Walker, 11 — both of whom joined the program for simple reasons.
“We get to cheer, and we get to associate with friends and have fun,” Addison said.
“We get to do it, even though we’re not in high school or college,” Nylah said. “We still get to do what the high school and college people get to do.”
Offering these young ladies the chance to live out their cheer dreams are head coaches Theresa Hayes and AmayLee Ulloa, alongside assistants JM Bail and Amorina Hayes (Theresa’s daughter).
Theresa, who coaches the older squad, has been around cheer her entire life — from being a cheerleader, teaching her daughter the sport and even leading her own All-Star team in New York. After moving to Florida, Amorina still wanted to cheer — a desire that led the two to the organization.
“It was their first year, and they needed a cheerleading coach, so I ended up coming on as a coach a couple of years back,” Theresa said. “The coach they had, I believe he had to move out of state for some family things, so they were in jeopardy of not having a program. It was a long, thought-out decision, but I didn’t want there not to be a program, and I just felt like it was something I should be — and could be — doing.”
While Theresa has made herself comfortable leading the older girls, Ulloa has been leading the way for the younger girls’ team — helping them get adjusted to the cheerleading world.
A dancer for a large portion of her life, Ulloa brings a different approach to a sport that fell into her lap — thanks in part to her husband, Jose.
“I would have never thought I would be a cheer coach,” Ulloa said. “But seeing Jose so active in the league and being so involved and loving it so much — he loves football — when he asked me to volunteer with head coach Theresa… (I said) I’m in.
“I’m dedicated to the girls — I love it and I love cheer, and I love the whole program period,” she said.
Between Ulloa’s focus on dance and the football side, and Theresa’s competitive understanding of cheer, the two coaches balance one another and offer the girls a chance to round themselves out as cheerleaders.
Before the start of the regular season — which kicked off Saturday, Aug. 31 — Ulloa and Theresa had four weeks to work with the girls. For the older team, it was a time to introduce more complicated and advanced techniques.
“We’ve been learning chants and cheers to do with crowds, and we’ve been learning jumps and to do stuff for our competitions,” Addison said.
“We (also worked on) formations, how to hold pompoms and stuff like that,” Nylah said. “Getting everybody to stand in formation and try to do jumps (was difficult).”
If the older girls were having to conquer the challenges of cheerleading, the younger girls were having an even tougher time starting out.
For most of them, these were the first cheerleading practices they had ever had, and the overall serious nature of the routines even took Ulloa by surprise.
“It was very eye-opening, because when you think of a league, you think of an after-school program where they come after school and it’s OK, but this is like, real,” Ulloa said. “They practice Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and they have games every Saturday.
“They have uniforms, and they have to be in practice gear every day, and we have speciality bows and shoes — it’s not like we’re going to the park to do a little cheer,” she said. “They’re learning stunts, they’re learning different cheers. … They’re learning how to be great teammates.”
Like leaders of any youth organization, Theresa and Ulloa hope to build something that will outlast the girls’ actual time in cheerleading.
“I want them to feel a connection to the other girls,” Theresa said of her students. “I want them to have memories that they’re going to remember for the rest of their life. Really the whole idea in my head with building this, is that it is more of a family and not just an organization.”