GLADSTONE - A state championship winning coaching duo is returning to lead the Gladstone Braves competitive cheer team. Athletic director Matt Houle and the Gladstone School Board announced the hiring of co-coaches Kristie Nevala and Jamie Lippens for the upcoming season.
"It's exciting to have Kristie and Jamie back. They helped win a state title a number of years ago," said Houle. "Kristie is one of my favorite people in cheerleading. She's a quality person and I loved working with her years ago, and I'll love working with her again."
Lippens and Nevala are returning from a six year hiatus from varsity coaching. They coached the team from 2003-07, including a MHSAA state title in 2006, before resigning due to family obligations. During that time, they stayed involved in the sport, Nevala working as a judge and Lippens coaching at the junior high level.
"My daughter is entering the high school program right now as a freshman and she's a cheerleader," said Lippens. "I thought it was a good time to return."
Lippens said she hopes her work behind the scenes will pay off in the long run. Before leaving the high school program six years ago, she began a practice program aimed at young girls to teach tumbling skills early. Calling it the toughest skill to learn in the sport, Lippens made teaching tumbling a priority.
"I started the program because teams downstate have a huge advantage. They have big gyms and start tumbling at age 3-4. We didn't have anything like that here," she said. "It's absolutely the most difficult skill to learn. There's that fear of going backwards and it's something the girls have to overcome on their own, jumping backwards through the air. Besides getting over the fear, its a very tough thing to do."
Having tasted the top, Nevala and Lippens said their goals remain as high as ever due to that experience.
"We won a state title and then in 2007 we made it back to states...Now that we know what's going on, the goal is to go for the top. We'll see what we can do," Lippens said.
As for prospective cheerleaders looking to make the team, Lippens had some advice.
"The girls will have to put in a lot of hard work. It takes more than one time before you get it. There's going to be pain and they're going to get hurt. You have to be able to walk it off and get back into it. It's OK to be frustrated, but don't let that be your downfall," she said.
"You have to be tough mentally and physically and you have to look good doing it."