Simone Smith has spent her whole life performing for crowds. She is among the vanguard for high school competitive cheerleading in the state of Georgia. Her squad at Hardaway High School was selected to perform for the athletes in the Olympic Village for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Her experience as a dancer on Georgia Southern University’s Southern Explosion dance team only cemented her passion for performance. After college, Simone began competing in open division all-star cheerleading for Force All-Stars, Cobra, and the Force/ProCheer dual venture known as ProForce. During this time, she gained valuable experience both as a performer and a coordinator for those teams.
As expansive as Simone’s resume is as a competitor in cheerleading and dance, her experience as a coach is even more impactful. Simone began coaching cheerleading in the late 1990s at Cheersouth Columbus before moving to Atlanta. There, she worked at Force Cheerleading and Atlanta’s Best Cheerleading for nearly a decade. She coached briefly at Georgia All Stars and Georgia Comets before transitioning to a more permanent position at Future Extreme. Simone continued when Future Extreme was absorbed by Jayhawks, and she now coaches at Star Athletics in Winder, Georgia. Simone was kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions about all-star cheerleading.
What has been the biggest challenge for your team this past year?
Good question. I would say the biggest issue for our team has been adjusting for and expanding our COVID protocols as expectations and mitigation strategies change. While the threat of transmission and the requirements to compete have not been as arduous as they were, there were still some struggles. Our athletes do get sick, and have to be out. It has been a real challenge to continue to make practices work and happen. The quarantine period has been shortened considerably from the 14-day period we experienced last year. But when you have to have that person out for so many days it becomes difficult for their stunt groups, keeping formations tight, and all the other elements of successful performance. Even with strong mitigation strategies in place, we have still seen a little bit of the absences and there has been some anxiety about an athlete contracting COVID on the week of a competition. Without a doubt the biggest issue our teams have faced is making sure we can still have full practices despite the absences stemming from the pandemic.
How did you and your team overcome this challenge?
It has definitely helped that the CDC has relaxed the constraints about quarantine, mask use, and social distancing. Just lessening the days an athlete has to be in quarantine has definitely helped. We have certain protocols in place. For example, if a cheerleader has already been vaccinated we can expedite their return and reduce the amount of contact tracing necessary to keep the athletes safe. Having those policies helps us decide when an athlete can come back and what we can do as a team. The policies and procedures that Star Athletics has put in place has helped us not to have so many athletes out for so many days. This means that athletes can still compete, if we are prepared in advance.
The other thing that has really helped has been the ability to backfill positions from other teams at our gym. This is something we want to avoid, generally, because it puts a lot of strain on the other teams, but we are able to pull from different teams when we need a fill-in. That lets us keep full stunt groups or even stack groups. Contacting alternates as soon as we learn about a team member who is in quarantine allows the athletes to come in before the actual practice and at least learn the stack. Having the flexibility to pull athletes from other squads has definitely helped to lessen the stress and strain caused by COVID.
Tell me about a wonderful surprise from your most recent season.
Of course, wins are always great. But this year I have to say that both of my teams hitting both days at CHEERSPORT was a big accomplishment for my teams and the program. This year, the performances were more than just winning, it was about having two hard hitting phenomenal performances. My squad knows that I always say: I want that feeling of just enjoying the routine, having fun, and when they get to that dance, they know that they hit a great routine, and the crowd and the athletes can go crazy when they get to the dance. I was able to literally do that for four performances over the CHEERSPORT weekend because both teams hit, both days and the crowd was enthusiastic, loud, and supportive. It was that good feeling of “you know what, y’all put it out there and finally pulled it together!” CHEERSPORT had two big wins for both of the teams, and for it to all finally come together on the floor, it was a great feeling!
What changes would you like to see in the sport of cheerleading?
I know a lot of people complain about the score sheet and consistency issues in scoring. Everybody’s always going to complain about that, you’re not going to be able to make everyone happy. Improving consistency will always be a work in progress and that’s with any score sheet, whether it’s high school or all-star, even college. So I think as long as the competition officials are looking at it, and keeping it top of mind, they can work on finding a solution that is fair across the board. Unfortunately, inconsistency in scoring is an issue everywhere, whether it is in all-star judging or even in high school judging where I am on the judging side of things. So I get it and understand it from a coach’s side as well as from a judge’s perspective. Working to develop a more consistent scoring system could help to advance the sport, this is what I would like to see.
What one piece of advice is important for athletes and coaches to remember?
Try to make cheerleading also about life lessons, because the young adults that we coach have so many different things that are going on in their lives. Social interaction has changed in the last ten years. It’s just different from the way life was when I was growing up. That is why it is important to help athletes understand that the lessons we learn in cheerleading can be expanded into lessons about life. When we, as coaches, say “Hey, wear this outfit, wear this bow, be here on time” those are not just cheer lessons: they are life lessons. When you get a job, you have to be on time, you have to wear the right outfit. You can’t go to Chick fil A and wear whatever kind of outfit you want. If you come to work and say, “oh, I lost my shirt,” you are probably not going to be able to work that day and may get sent home with no pay. Cheerleading teaches athletes to be responsible and accountable. So in addition to learning cheer, how to tumble, stunt, and do a routine, I would advise cheerleaders to learn the life lessons inherent in the sport and apply it to everyday life as well.
Thank you so much to Simone for giving all of us here at cheerleadingmix.com the opportunity to speak with her and learn a little more about what is going on in the cheerleading community! Want to see Simone’s team performing at CHEERSPORT? Just look below!