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Former cheerleaders return to MHS to lead new generation


Coach Jessica Barnett-Brooks time as a cheerleader at Merrillville High School was life-changing. 

“Cheer was an opportunity for me to be my authentic self and showcase the skills I was proud of,” she said. “I developed sister-like friendships that were my rock. It was amazing.” 

This year, Brooks and former cheerleader Kamai Westbrooks returned to MHS as coaches to give back to the group that was their safe haven growing up. 

“My desire to create a safe community atmosphere where everyone is seen and heard, a ton of fun is experienced, and hard work is completed to achieve our desired outcomes,” Brooks said.

Senior cheerleader Sunseray Peterson believes that the new cheer coaches have been making an impact.. 

“I feel like part of it was that they used to be cheerleaders themselves and they can relate to us,” she said.

Coach Brooks’ hope is that each student gains accountability, growth mindset, and a relentless approach to tackling challenges in cheer and overall life. 

“My philosophy for coaching cheer is inspiring elite athleticism and academic excellence through prioritization of accurate school work first, skill mastery second, and dedication and consistency to getting better day by day,” Coach Brooks said.

Peterson said the new coaches are letting the seniors take a leadership role.

“I feel like we’re leading pretty well,” she said. “The coaches give us a lot of leeway, because we are seniors, to make decisions for the team to better the team.” 

Senior Zoey Lucious feels the cheerleaders and their new coaches have a great working relationship, with the seniors embracing their leadership role.

“We are leading with authority,” she said.

Senior Trinity Collins believes the seniors are embracing their new roles.

‘They know what to say at the right time. They help the younger girls out. When the coach is doing something, they’re just sitting around and the seniors will step up.”

During Peterson’s four years she’s been cheering, she’s liked the experience and different opportunities cheering can bring in. “I like the feeling of meeting new people and transitioning to being the one to learn stuff and being the one to teach it,” she said.

Like Coach Brooks, the seniors said cheer has had a positive impact.

Senior Zoey Lucious has taken what she learned in cheer and applied it to the rest of her life.

“It changed my everyday life because I’ve realized to be consistent with my work and my practice and other stuff like that” she said, “and I just have to stay organized.”

Peterson has learned to use her voice a lot more. 

“I used to be very shy but now I’m more open and comfortable with meeting new people. It builds up your strengths too, your core, your muscles, your legs and all of that,” she said.



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