Learning to Be a Team Player at Palisades High School

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

Teacher Cathye Estes centers her life on cheerleading, special education and parenthood, with a healthy dose of community service sprinkled throughout.

Cheerleading is a love, and when she took over the Palisades High School cheerleading program last school year, she inherited a team that had not had rigorous coaching for some time.

Since then, Estes has worked hard to increase the team’s athleticism, rigor and safety. Perhaps even more importantly she is striving to create a closely bonded team where everyone progresses together and trusts each other.

“There’s been huge progress,” Estes said. “They’re doing things that a cheerleading squad should be able to do and things we weren’t able to do last year. In the past, it’s been ‘go out and shake your skirts.’ It hasn’t been about what cheer motion concepts do you have. Cheerleading isn’t about dancing. It’s about arm movements, jumps, steps and technique.”

The PaliHi varsity cheerleading squad. The members are (not in order) Breana Acevedo, Maria Chavarria, Madeleine Chinery, Estephane Cortez, Nyasha Ezekiel, Lauryn Hall, Kimberly Hernandez, Chimeire Ikeabu, Kaytie Jeffries, Aleiyah Jones, Sarah Mousave, Lillie Simon, ShyLynn Smith, Jasmine Ward and Ellai Williams

The PaliHi varsity cheerleading squad. The members are (not in order) Breana Acevedo, Maria Chavarria, Madeleine Chinery, Estephane Cortez, Nyasha Ezekiel, Lauryn Hall, Kimberly Hernandez, Chimeire Ikeabu, Kaytie Jeffries, Aleiyah Jones, Sarah Mousave, Lillie Simon, ShyLynn Smith, Jasmine Ward and Ellai Williams

Senior Jasmine Ward, 17, who has cheered all four years of her PaliHi time, said the changes have meant “we’re more of a team this year . . . There are no cliques any more.” In addition, when performing, “we are cleaner and sharper in our motions,” which means “we have a better image” on campus.

Other students used to refer to cheer in a dismissive way, Ward added, but “now it’s good to say you cheer. There’s more respect.”

Sophomores ShyLynn Smith and Kimberly Hernandez agreed, and noted that the practices, which last more than two hours each school day, are quite rigorous. “It’s fun and a lot of hard work.”

“We do a lot of conditioning,” Hernandez noted. And the group of about 30 cheerleaders have become friends.

“There’s more bonding than last year, and you get close to each other,” Smith said. Varsity and junior varsity squads used to practice separately, but now they train as one. Estes has made it a mission to connect the teens with each other. On their first bus trip to camp at UC-Santa Barbara, she assigned the seating, so JV cheerleaders were paired with varsity ones. She worked to pair students who didn’t know each other, so they would have a chance to talk and get to know each other.

The PaliHi junior varsity cheerleading squad. Photo courtesy of Palisades High School Yearbook

The PaliHi junior varsity cheerleading squad.
Photo courtesy of Palisades High School Yearbook

The bonding activities continued at camp. They began to share details that they had kept private when they didn’t trust each other as much. For example, one student told the others about a life-threatening disease she is fighting, Estes said.

In addition, during the summer practices, which were from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. three days a week, the new squad of 30 students not only trained, but continued connecting.

Now, “they look at each other like sis- ters,”saidEstes,whogrewupinLongBeach and began teaching at Pali in 2013. “That’s the way they need to look at each other. It takes four of them to make one stunt. If you miss one person, that stunt doesn’t go. They have to rely on each other so much. Once that flyer is thrown in the air, you have to know that you’re going to get caught.”

The changes haven’t always been simple. Before tryouts this summer, about 75 students went through five cuts before they were allowed to try out, Estes said.

PaliHi cheerleaders hold the breakaway banner for the football team at a recent game.

PaliHi cheerleaders hold the breakaway banner for the football team at a recent game.

“We wanted to make sure this team was very clean and would be coachable and that they would begin to take in and honor cheer traditions,” Estes said.

This turned out to be true. “This year’s cheer squad is a pleasure to work with,” she noted. “The nicest thing is they want to do better and gain technique. They understand that safety is important and first. They don’t always like that perfection leads to progression” though.

Last year, their efforts at Universal Cheerleaders Association camp qualified them for a trip to the NFL’s Pro Bowl in Hawaii. The work this year earned them invitations to the Pro Bowl, the Citrus Bowl and Walt Disney World. In addition, three cheerleaders and one mascot earned entry to a parade in London.

“I love coaching so much,” said Estes, who was also a cheerleader herself in high school and college. Her joy in coaching stems from “taking young girls . . . and teaching them the stunts, the belief in themselves, how to do conflict resolution and go over the hurdles. As you teach, you know that

Community service is part of Estes’ work with her cheerleading squads, and before coming to Pali, her squads in Fresno had twice earned President Obama’s gold medal award for their service efforts.

At Pali, six of the cheerleaders, Evelyn Duarte, Bellabeni Vasquez, Jovita Boatner, Kamryn Strong, Aicha Traove and Bailey Ball, now volunteer in her classroom to work with severely disabled students. The six bubble with excitement when they talk about their work with the students there, describing it as “cool” and “super fun.”

Cheerleading coach Cathye Estes, center, and her husband, Matt (back row, right), surrounded by some of their foster children and grandchildren.

Cheerleading coach Cathye Estes, center, and her husband, Matt (back row, right), surrounded by some of their foster children and grandchildren.

They also discuss the different ways their fellow students both learn and communicate, which might include eye gaze. “They need to be independent, and coach is teaching them how to be,” Duarte said, as the group described how much they have learned through bonding with the class this school year.

Two of the students from Estes’ classroom, Isaiah Carbado and Jack Callaci, have even joined the cheerleading squad as its first male members. Each will carry a flag at the homecoming game. Estes would like the squad to expand to include more male members, such as football players who could cheer at basketball games in the offseason.

Estes’ dedication to working with the severely disabled began when she was a young woman assigned as a substitute aide in a similar class. She was supposed to work with a 10-year-old girl lying in a crib. She was advised that the girl did not like to be touched and preferred no human contact.

Estes didn’t quite know how to proceed during her hours sitting with her, so she talked gently to her. “I was trying to console her and stuck my finger in the crib, and she reached out and wrapped her hand around it,” Estes said. “That was it. I was hooked.”

Recently her classroom received a $5,000 donation to allow the class the chance to go to Universal Studios together.

In 1987, Estes also began working with the Special Olympics. “My job was to give them a voice—to let the community know that they matter,” she said. “My master’s degree was written on that.”

She and her husband, who both worked at McLane High School in Fresno, also reached out to 25 high school students whose parents had abandoned them. They fostered the students, who now range in age from 22 to 35, and they consider all of them their children. “In Fresno, we’re known as ‘The Blind Side’ family” after the Sandra Bullock football movie, Estes said. Her husband and kids still live in Fresno, while she commutes back on weekends.

The couple paid for each child’s college education, and ten have since paid back that tuition, so they could own their educations, Estes said. But her goal has never been to be repaid for taking in these teens. Instead, she tells them, “All we ask is that you pay it forward. Everything we’ve done for our kids, we expect them to do for others.” And they have taken this seriously. “We’re very, very proud of them.”

She noted that her youngest son, 22, has begun working to address issues for men of color and has met separately with both President Obama in Washington, D.C. and Governor Jerry Brown. All her work has a consistent theme.

“I want to create the best generation of youth,” Estes said. “I want to create young people that are going to advocate for themselves and advocate for others.”

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