In September, George Washington High School became the first in the district to have their cheerleading team qualify for the national championships. Led by health teacher and cheerleading coach Veronica Hayes, the team was featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer where, despite limited resources, their skill, charisma, and passion for the sport was put on full display:
“ The relatively new George Washington cheer team shows up in T-shirts, with no professional choreographer, no entourage. The team barely has a budget. [However] the team is the three-time reigning Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District XII Public League champion in the coed division.”
The news of not only qualifying, but also raising enough money to compete in nationals left the students and Hayes in disbelief. “When my coaches told me that we were going to compete in the nationals cheerleading competition, it felt like a dream come true. It felt unbelievable, but I knew it was true because of all the [dedication] and work we have put into making our team better every year” (Irisda Kola, George Washington High School Senior & Cheerleading Captain). For some, the competition offers an opportunity to see a world outside of their neighborhood and to create memories.
“For some of our students this will be the first of many-s. Some have never left Philadelphia let alone get on a plane to travel to Texas. The opportunity for our students to be able to show the nation what an (intercity Philadelphia public school) is all about, is amazing in itself. We will be able to create memories for the students that will last a lifetime and that’s what this is all about.”
- Veronica Hayes, George Washington Highschool Cheerleading Coach
In addition to training, the cheerleading team worked to raise over $30,000 to travel to the national championships. While Ms. Hayes and her co-coach Michele Sorkin-Socki have exhausted their resources for fundraising, the students do their part by selling “lollipops, talking to potential donors, [and] planning more fund-raisers” (Kola, Irsida, George Washington High School Senior & Cheerleading Captain).
There is an obvious sense of community between the team members and their coach. Each relies on each other for support and holds each other accountable. For Hayes, it means a lot that she can give back to students, a community, and the Philadelphia School District that molded her:
“I myself am a product of the School District of Philadelphia, a graduate from Lincoln High School. To be able to give back to the district after all that it has done for me, I am truly honored. Sometimes when times are tough and let’s face it we all have those moments, I look back to where we were as a team and where we are now. It just goes to show you that with perseverance and dedication that anything is possible. I am so blessed to have been a part of this and able to share all of this with a group of hard working student athletes”.
- Veronica Hayes, George Washington High School Cheerleading Coach
The team has accomplished so much already and their futures are looking bright. To stay grounded, the team uses mindfulness techniques to improve their performance in and out of cheer practice. Hayes mentions that she uses “a lot of breathing exercises” before competitions and sees mindfulness as an invaluable tool to help her students navigate their teen years. Cheerleading Captain Irisida Kola also uses breathing techniques to ground herself during practice. “I focus on breathing and taking things slow and just going with the flow. This mindful technique is what I use everyday because rushing things can make something worse”.
Hard work paired with a calm mind is a recipe for success. It is our mission at Inner Strength Education to uplift the minds, hearts, and actions of youth through mindful, contemplative awareness and developmental thinking to help them realize their higher potentials. George Washington High School is embodying our mission statement using breath work, a pillar in not just our mindfulness curriculum, but an instinctual, primitive practice that goes back thousands of years. With the ability to calm mind and body, and evoke an awareness of awareness itself, we are happy that the George Washington Cheerleading team has chosen this practice to assist them on their path to winning the national championship.
If you like to continue following their journey and support their needs as a competitive team, click here.