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After 21 years, Victoria cheerleading sponsor leaves high school

By JULIAN CAVAZOS
May 23, 2010 at 12:23 a.m.

Denise Neel instructs students during try-outs for next year's cheerleading squad. Neel is leaving high school cheerleading after 21 years to teach theater and coach cheerleading at Cade Middle School next school year.

2010-11 VISD High School cheerleading sponsors

Phallon Crawford, Victoria West

Suzanne Seitz, Victoria East

ABOUT DENISE NEEL

Neel started off as an English teacher, then became a theater teacher.

In 1989, Neel accepted the position as cheerleading sponsor.

Her squad went to nationals her first year as a cheerleading sponsor.

From 1989 to 1997, her squads made it to nationals.

From 1997 to this year, her squads have been consistently in the top 10. This year's squad finished eighth.

Three of her squads captured the national championship title - in 1999, 2000 and 2006.

Her 1999 squad, who won the national championship, met then-Gov. George Bush at the state capitol.

Texas Monthly also featured the 1999 squad, naming it as one of the best cheerleading squads.

She first made the Who's Who of U.S. Cheerleading Coaches in 2002.

For the first time in two decades, Denise Neel will no longer be a high school cheerleading sponsor.

Neel, who has directed the high school cheerleading program in Victoria for the past 21 years, has decided to start the cheerleading and theater programs at Cade Middle School.

"I have a lot of good memories of teaching and coaching, and from people who I worked with at Victoria High and Memorial," Neel said. "I guess if there was a time for me to make a change, I guess now was the time."

Neel has led cheerleading squads from both Victoria High School and Memorial High School to be in the top 10 squads in the nation at the prestigious National High School Cheerleading Championship.

This year, the MHS squad finished eighth.

Why Cade Middle School?

Besides coaching cheerleading, Neel also loves to teach drama, and has done so for 26 years.

"I love theater," the 1974 Stroman High School graduate said. "I fell in love with theater in high school and did a lot of acting in college."

When Victoria school district teachers began listing their preferences on which high school they wanted to teach at next school year- Victoria East High School or Victoria West High School - Neel learned she would have to choose between teaching only drama or cheerleading.

She wouldn't be allowed to teach both at either high school.

"With the opening of the new high schools, the district was looking for theater teachers at the high schools," Neel said. "These two high schools are going to have these big auditoriums, and they want to make good use of it. They could only do theater. It wasn't a possibility to continue teaching theater and cheerleading."

By going to East or West, Neel would have had to choose between teaching only theater, or teaching English and cheerleading simultaneously.

"I was good in English," said Neel, who has a minor in that subject. "But, it wasn't my passion."

However, the rule to teaching only cheerleading or drama did not apply to Victoria middle schools.

Since she still wanted to teach both, she felt moving to Cade was the best decision.

"I was given the opportunity to start the cheerleading program at Cade, and I gladly said, 'I can do that,' " she said.

Neel and Stephanie Daniel, a physical education coach at Vickers Elementary School, will be co-sponsors for the cheerleading program at Cade.

Her Squads

Cheerleaders on her current squad say they are going to miss Neel next school year.

"It's sad," said Chelsie Newbern, a junior. "I had always hoped that she would be my coach my senior year, but I know she will always be there for me and my squad next year."

Cheerleader Courtney Rab said Neel has taught her more than just cheerleading, but also about life.

"She taught me all the life's lessons a teenager should learn before leaving high school," Courtney, a senior, said. "She's done it by making it fun also. She taught me determination, and dedication - that's a big one."

Elizabeth Kopecky, one of Neel's former cheerleaders who graduated from VHS in 1993, heard Neel was moving to the middle school level.

"I think she'll be great middle school teacher, said Kopecky, a 35-year-old Victoria mother of two. "She has a lot to offer any students she is in charge of."

Moving to middle school

Teaching drama and cheerleading to middle school students won't be all that different, said Neel, who majored in theater at what is now Texas State University.

"The only new thing for me is changing the grade level and age of the kids," she said. "Kids are kids. I think the maturity level of middle school kids now will probably be equivalent to the high school kids of when I started teaching."

Neel said she will, however, miss watching her high school students grow throughout their four years.

"There will be some things I'll miss about high school - watching those girls grow from being young girls to young women," she said. "Watching them mature and sharing with them the excitement of going onto college."

Neel will still help the high school cheerleading squads in any way she can, she said.

She'll also get her middle school squads ready for high school, she said.

"I'll do my very best to prepare those at the middle school for when they move onto the West High School, which is where they'll be going," she said. "I'm not going far."

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