Brown Middle School really has something to cheer about after its cheerleading squad came out of virtually nowhere to win Atlanta Public Schools’ annual middle school competition held Saturday at Douglass High School. Not only was this year’s squad of 16 girls filled with inexperienced competitors — only six squad members had previous experience — but the school didn’t even field a squad last year as co-coaches Belita Hamilton and LuShaun Crayon insisted on a more disciplined, focused unit.
Hamilton and Crayon decided the cheerleaders needed added inspiration to dedicate themselves to the team. “We had them wear school football jerseys instead of the traditional cheerleading outfits, and capri-style pants the same length of the football uniform pants, so that they would have their own identity,” explained Hamilton, a seventh-year math teacher who’s in her fourth year coaching the squad. “And when another school’s squad does well at our home games, we praise them. You want the other team to feel welcome.”
The result this year was phenomenal. Brown had never before won the competition, which previously had been dominated by Bunche Middle. (This year Inman finished second and Parks third.) “We’ve just had a different environment at the school,” said Crayon, a second-year chorus and drama techer. “The students are excited to learn. It’s boosted the morale all over the school. Some of my students have told me, “Ms. Crayon, I feel like we won something.” For their efforts, Hamilton and Crayon shared the Coach of the Year honor.
Both coaches underscore the importance and value of an activity that too often is dismissed as window-dressing or frivolous. They point to the way cheerleading builds discipline, self-esteem, leadership, commitment and dedication. Those who stick with it can gain college scholarships, while performing serious, athletic maneuvers worthy of gymnasts. “And people don’t get that,” Hamilton said. She notes the improved behavior and academic peformance of several of her squad members, one of whom has qualified for the school’s “First Lady” program of student ambassadors. Another has become a gifted student.
“This is great,” Hamilton added, “because now our squad members want to participate on the high school level.”
The co-coaches are pretty close themselves; on the day we visited, it was Twins Day at Brown Middle, and they decided to come to school wearing their blue coaching uniform tops as part of their outfit.