Atascadero News photo courtesy of Taylor Ferrell • Atascadero High School cheer coach Taylor Ferrell is held up by some of her squad during a recent practice. A lot goes into being a cheer coach these days.
They say it takes one to know one. That certainly seems to be the case for Taylor Ferrell, Atascadero High School’s cheerleading coach. She cheered for three years while attending AHS and now she’s back leading the group.
“The old coach was my coach,” Ferrell said. “So I know what [the team] likes, what they don’t like.”
Ferrell is young — real young. She’s also a newlywed, having married Kevin Ferrell in June and leaving her maiden name of Dunn behind her, and she’s in her last semester at Cuesta College, where she’s studying sports and recreation and event coordinating. But she’s not so young that she has an idealized view of herself. She knows that her youth is both a liability and an advantage in her position.
She’s young enough and close enough to cheerleading that she can still do the drills and moves, young enough that she sees eye-to-eye with her team.
On the other hand, she said, some parents were a little worried about putting their children in the care of one so young, but she was able to put their fears to rest at least in part because of how seriously she takes her job. She said she’s certified in CPR, first aid and by the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators for safety and risk management.
Her record speaks for itself. Since the 2011-12 school year, she’s had exactly zero reportable injuries. Bumps and bruises don’t count.
Cheerleading, Ferrell said, is much more than simply hollering “rah rah rah.”
“Even only 20 years ago, cheer was just a skirt bee-bopping around,” Ferrell said with a smile.
But it’s evolved. What Ferrell is involved with is part dance, part tumbling and part gymnastics. Cheering for a team is, perhaps ironically, now a very small part of what Ferrell’s team practices.
And do they ever practice. Ferrell said that tryouts for the team are in May. She will fill up to 40 spots, but not necessarily all 40 will be occupied. At present, there are 37 girls on the team.
By the way, Ferrell noted that cheerleading is not an exclusively female sport. Though she has no boys on the team at the moment, she was on a team with boys in her time at high school. Everybody gets a fair shake at it, she said.
To be as fair as she can, she said her scoring is based on an Excel spreadsheet. Fifty percent of a potential cheerleader’s score comes from his or her teachers. Is the student responsible, respectful and show leadership qualities? The remaining 50 percent comes from the actual tryout itself — kicks, jumps, how well the student can project his or her voice and other similar criteria.
“And if they’re goofing off, that’ll count against them,” she added.
Once the team is selected, practice begins. While it’s still hot in late June, the team will get together twice a day, morning and evening, for practices. That’s followed by three 12-hour day camps at Cal Poly, hosted by the Universal Cheerleaders’ Association.
It’s an intensive camp, Ferrell said, where she, as the instructor, learns about new regulations and where the students learn new methods for old tricks and such.
“We love that camp,” Ferrell said, but noted that sometimes the new regulations are a pain.
For instance, a recent change involved how many times a cheerleader can twist once thrown into the air. It used to be twice, but now only once, she said. Her understanding is that a huge proportion of cheerleading-related concussions from last year occurred when doing multiple twists.
While Ferrell’s record is injury-free, she said she understands and supports the need to keep her athletes safe, and that she gladly works within the confines. There are, after all, other concerns to concern herself with.
“It’s easy to throw a girl in the air and then walk away if you don’t like her,” Ferrell offered as an example. “And they are high school girls.”
So she’s learned to be open and to listen. If a girl — or a girl’s parent — indicates she doesn’t want to work closely with a specific teammate, Ferrell said she’ll rearrange the stunt squads.
Each stunt squad is made up of four girls, and they have to be able to trust each other enough to throw and be thrown, to catch and be caught.
“This year’s parents are wonderful,” Ferrell said. “They’re always willing to help.”
Ferrell is also helped by Gabbie Morkowski, the junior varsity coach, and assistant coach Allie Sammons.
Having the help means Ferrell can put more time and attention into choreography.
“I grew up as a dancer, so that’s pretty easy,” she said.
Though the number of practices per week stays the same, what the team does varies from week to week.
“We work on our half-time routine all week long and then perform it on Friday,” she said.
For more information — including updates, photos and video — on Ferrell’s cheerleading team, go to www.facebook.com/ahs.cheer.