- July 22, 2020
The new Horizon High School may not be completely finished yet, but its spirit is already growing.
First-year cheerleading head coach Kiana Kowalewski — a former Florida State University cheer co-captain — is wasting no time in getting things going. The program is hosting virtual interest meetings this week before tryouts June 1 through 3 at Bridgewater Middle School.
“It’s a brand-new high school … but their spring sports are starting — I know they started up their spring football — so we’re having our cheer tryouts, because over the summer we usually go to cheer camp and get lots of stuff done in the summer,” Kowalewski said. “The school is going to start out with 9th-, 10th- and 11th-graders, so we’ll hold tryouts for all athletes who are registered for the school.”
Kowalewski said she is hoping to keep the tryout process simple. Anyone interested just needs to bring a signed tryout packet with them. Otherwise, she suggested athletes get in some conditioning and practice to help prepare.
Kowalewski hopes to field three different teams, including a varsity, junior varsity and freshman team — each of which could have about 30 athletes. The numbers depend on the interest level, and so far, signs have been good on that front, she said. A big part of that is because the school is relieving Windermere High School — where Kowalewski served as the JV cheer coach last year before making the move to Horizon High.
“We’re really close with the AD (Russell Williams) there, and he has been great about helping us advertise for the students who are switching over to the new school, so we have gotten lots of emails,” Kowalewski said. “And we’ve gotten a ton of emails from people actually coming from out of state making sure they can try out in the spring.”
Kowalewski’s own background in cheer is long and extensive. She started cheering for Pop Warner when she was in elementary school. Since those early days, Kowalewski worked her way through every level and helped the program at Lakewood Ranch get to Nationals for the first time in school history. She also coached Chiles High School to a first-place finish at The American Championships.
Although she has been a head coach before at the high school level, she’s never actually started a program. It’s something that will present unique challenges, but there also is a lot of excitement that comes from shaping an entire program, she said.
“I’m actually very excited for that, because I think this is where my experience coaching at different high schools comes in,” Kowalewski said. “I’ve kind seen what works well and what doesn’t work well. There were pros and cons at each program, so I’ve seen and experienced the good and the bad. … I think it’ll be fun to build from the ground up.”
Once tryouts are done and out of the way, Kowalewski said the next step will be to jump into skills practices. Then — during the summer — the program will host a UCA camp in its own gym.
When the school year starts, the teams will begin practicing a few times a week — alongside the sideline cheer season. Then, in October, the program will transition into its competitive season.
“There is so much to be excited about,” Kowalewski said. “I am actually very, very excited to start this program and build traditions. We get to make our own fight song, we get to pick all of our football cheers, and we just picked out our uniforms. It’s something I’ve never gotten to experience before, so I’m definitely excited.”