From left to right, front row: Jahmelia Stenson, Zelana Smith, Najla El, Amanda Wilson, Twiinae Johnson, Jazmin Stenson, Coach Linda Stetson; Second row: Dominique Plummer, Aleeah Williams, Sade Bankston, Blanca Rodriguez, Jashlin Hampton, Goka Bere; Third row: Dorinda Andrews, Alma Rios, Tionne Ryans, Morgan Porter, Layloni Allen, Alex Rivera; Fourth row: Marshe Robinson, Armeka Iford, Nakirah Salam, Ariel Jenkins, India Packnett. Coach Stenson was voted “Best Coach 2013” at Castlemont High by the student body.
Coach Linda Stenson does what it takes to help her cheerleaders succeed. She sits in the classroom with them if necessary to make sure they earn their grades.
The students have to achieve at least a 2.5 grade-point-average to stay on the team. “I told the girls they could accept being average, but I want them to strive to be above average,” said Stenson.
Under her leadership, the Castlemont cheerleaders proved they are excellent in both academics and cheering, winning first place in the recent Spirit Spectacular competition in Sacramento.
“Before I started the cheerleading squad, there was nothing for the girls to do. In January of this year at the ‘Spirit Spectacular’ competition, they proved what they can do. We were the only African-Americans there.
“More importantly, many of these girls came to me with a 1.30 (G.P.A.), and they are now making the honor roll.”
Stenson’s interest in Castlemont’s cheering squad began in 2011 after she attended a football game to support her son where she saw three unorganized cheerleaders on the field.
Castlemont principal Betsy Steele approached Stenson after learning that she had been a cheerleading coach for the East Bay Warriors, a Pop Warner team in Oakland.
“When I started working with the girls, many could not tryout because of low grade point averages. I went to each teacher and asked what could be done. The teachers were so supportive. They worked with me, and we brought grades up within a semester.
“One young lady had never achieved anything higher than a D average. We got her grades up to a 3.0, and this last semester she made the honor roll with a 3.5.”
Stenson says she tries to be a role model. “There are so few African-American women role models at Castlemont that when I came on campus the girls gravitated towards me. I became the support system they needed. I set high expectations, and my girls don’t disappoint.”
The cheering squad has grown to 31 young women in two years. Stenson attributes the growth to giving the girls something to do besides sports that is positive. “I have two assistant coaches, and we have a sister circle where we sit down and talk about everything from hygiene to boys. The most important thing I’ve taught them is that it is okay to disagree because that’s what sisters do.”
Castlemont cheerleaders also competed in the Rock and Roll Marathon, cheering for the runners. They won awards for best spirit and best costume.
Castlemont won third place and $500.
The squad will compete in November in Union City for a chance to participate in the Nationals in Anaheim.