Celebrating Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May celebrates Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, an annual celebration of achievements by the AAPI community and a time for recognizing their history, culture and central role in U.S. history.

May 2022 – Varsity Spirit Camp Instructor Highlight

This May, Varsity Spirit is recognizing summer camp staff who have helped pave the way and made a difference in the lives of  athletes and their peers, while embracing their Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage.

UCA Staff – Jackie Buhay-Castro

About you and your cheerleading history

My first exposure to cheerleading was when I was in 7th grade; I took a break from the sport for about two years before rejoining the cheer world during my sophomore year of high school at Glenbrook South HS. Because of my high school coach, I fell completely in love with the sport. From there, I continued my cheer career for four years at Illinois State University on the Game Day Co-Ed team. During my second year at ISU, I also began my exciting journey as a UCA instructor and traveled the nation doing what I love! In the second half of my senior year, my team and I competed at College Nationals and we had our first taste of the competition side after our program’s long hiatus from competing. After graduating from ISU and at 22 years old, I became the head coach at Loyola University Chicago. Through COVID, we took a 19-month program pause. Returning to my second in-person season at Loyola, we entered the competitive world of College Nationals and performed in the Open All-Girl Game Day division for the first time ever in program history – we advanced to finals and took home a ranking of sixth in the nation! Currently, I will be entering my third season with Loyola and my sixth summer of UCA staff!

Title/Programs/Years:

(As an athlete) Illinois State University Cheerleading for 4 years

(As a head coach) Loyola University Chicago entering my 3rd season

(As staff/Head Instructor) Universal Cheerleaders Association entering 6 years!

What do you love most about being on staff?

My favorite part about being on staff is getting to interact with new people and sharing the love of cheerleading with them, especially when it comes to teaching others new skills and techniques!

Biggest accomplishment on staff?

Being able to teach and app cheerleaders at camp, and watch them become UCA instructors later on in life!

Being asked to visit Varsity Spirit HQ for a UCA photoshoot

What does being AAPI mean to you? Has it had any influence on your cheer career?

Being a member of the AAPI community means being proud to show off the cultural upbringings and customs that make me who I am. It means that I am forever grateful and rooted to the Filipino traditions that tie my family back to my ancestors. As an Asian-American woman, I am able to be a voice and a model for other members of the AAPI community to make sure that we are receiving equitable standards in communities outside of our own. Being a POC has not negatively impacted my cheer career, but has provided me with a lot of positives. One big positive includes a network of AAPI friends that enjoy cheerleading.

UDA Staff – Sherri Yasukochi

About you and your dance history

I danced for the National Champion, Carlsbad Varsity Dance Team in high school. I am now a member of the San Diego State Dance Team and going into my fourth year! The upcoming summer will be my third year as a member of UDA Staff.

What do you love most about being on staff?

One of my favorite parts about being a part of UDA staff is having the opportunity to meet and connect with so many talented people from all around the country. We come together with a passion of dance and create so many memories that I will cherish forever.

Biggest accomplishment on staff?

My greatest UDA staff accomplishment was simply becoming a staff member. I went to UDA camps in high school and always looked up to the staff and knew someday I wanted to be a part of the UDA family. It is a dream come true to be a part of the UDA staff. Another favorite accomplishment was being nominated for rookie of the year!

What does being AAPI mean to you? Has it had any influence on your dance career?

Growing up, I never really embraced or acknowledged my culture and ethnicity. Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month has helped me to better understand and embrace even my own Asian heritage. AAPI month brings awareness and celebrates our people. I am proud to show Asian representation in the dance community and am so grateful to be surrounded by people who love and accept me. I am thankful for those who have shaped me into the person I am today and helped me to feel confident with who I am inside and out.

NCA Staff – Kortni Butler Smith

About you and your cheerleading history

NCA Staff Head Instructor for 11 years. Coming from a small town in Arkansas, going to my first cheer camp in 9th grade (first picture below) was the first time I had seen such a diverse group of people coming together to do something they loved. From that moment, I knew I was in it for the long haul!

What do you love most about being on staff?

NCA Staff has exceeded my expectations not only in putting me around diverse and talented people, but that my coworkers became friends, family, and even my bridesmaids! Being on staff opened me up to a new world of relationships I didn’t even know I needed.

Biggest accomplishment on staff?

In 2019 I received the opportunity to work at the Far East Camp in Iwakuni, Japan. It was my first time out of the country and was such an incredible experience! And then in 2021 I hit my 10 year milestone with NCA and received my ring, a lot of laughs and tears reflecting on the best years of my life!

What does being AAPI mean to you? Has it had any influence on your cheer career?

I’m half Vietnamese and half Laos, but I was adopted at birth into an all white family, and went to an all white school. It wasn’t until I made staff going into my freshman year that I felt a sense of pride from my fellow staffers. I had never truly felt accepted, safe, and empowered to be completely myself until staff, and I wanted to make sure the athletes I instructed every summer felt the same way, regardless of their ethnicity. It pushed me to be bolder, showed me the importance of representation, and made me proud to work any and all camps, from the small home camps to the big overnight camps! I’ve had to learn and accept that however little or much I’m connected to my heritage, is enough. That there isn’t a standard of being AAPI to live up to, but to be respectful, loving, and a bold human being is making my heritage proud.

Showing other minorities in Arkansas, and the handful of other Asian adoptees I’ve met over the years, that we have a place in a sport they love, has been the most rewarding and healing part of my career with NCA!

NDA Staff – Sarina Lowber

About you and your dance history

I have been dancing competitively since I was 10 years old. I have won 2 world titles (Open large Jazz) in my 8 years of competitive dancing. My studio is the Vision Dance center and I was also a duPont Manual Dazzler for 2 years.

What do you love most about being on staff?

The thing I love most about being on NDA staff is getting to inspire so many open minded students from such different backgrounds. It really opens up your perspective of the complexities and the horizons of the dance world.

Biggest accomplishment on staff?

My biggest accomplishment was definitely receiving an All-American ribbon from at my first staff meeting.

What does being AAPI mean to you? Has it had any influence on your dance career?

I am half Japanese, but I have family in Japan. I am very proud of my heritage and love visiting the country every other summer. Through these trips to Japan, I really learned the connection that dance holds with members of different cultures. During the summer festivals, we perform traditional Japanese dances in front of guests. As someone who’s first language was not Japanese, I found communication and relationships easier in the form of dance.

USA Staff – Heather Fong

About you and your dance history

I have been a part of the USA song/pom instructional staff for 20 years! I am in my 18th year as a Songleading Head Instructor.

What do you love most about being on staff?

What I love most about being on staff is the relationship I have formed with the rest of the staff. It is amazing to be able to work with other individuals that have come from different dance/cheer backgrounds that are just as passionate as I am about what we do. The minute that you join USA, you are a part of this incredible family that has given me so many precious memories, experiences, and friendships that will stay with me long after I am done with the instructional side of our company. I am continually pushed to become a better version of myself each summer.

Biggest accomplishment on staff?

I have received the Unity award twice during my time on staff which has been one of my biggest accomplishments. The word “United” is part of our company’s name and this award is voted on by all of our programs so being acknowledged by my peers and the rest of our staff means a lot to me.

What does being AAPI mean to you? Has it had any influence on your dance career?

Being AAPI is a source of pride to me. Given the way I was raised by my amazing parents, my values and character are rooted in my Chinese as well as my American culture. As a third-generation born, I did not fully appreciate what it meant to be Chinese until about the time I was in middle school. So, this serves as a reminder for me to reflect on how grateful I am to be able to celebrate the different family traditions, and celebrations, while I continue to grow more appreciation for my heritage.

Growing up, I was often the only Asian (besides my younger sister) at our dance studio, on my Song team in High School, and even on my college dance team. I put more pressure on myself because I created a picture in my head that I stood out because I did not look the same as my teammates. A strong work ethic has always been instilled in me, but served as motivation to work harder and make sure that I had perfected whatever skill we were working on and then some. I spend countless hours practicing at home in the living room or my garage to make sure I would stand out in a positive way. This has also had a great impact on me as a USA instructor and the influence that I have on our students that see themselves in me. That for me is something that makes that part of my job so rewarding!

USA Band Staff – Kent Giese

About you and your band history

This is my fifth year on the USA Band Staff and third year as a USA Head Instructor. I was Drum Major at both my high school and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before joining USA staff, and have 8 total years of Drum Major experience.

What do you love most about being on staff?

Being on USA staff is such a privilege, the best part being its people. My coworkers on staff are some of the most genuine people I know, and I owe much of my success to them. USA staff is a supportive environment where we help each other grow as instructors and as people. Their encouragement makes serving our students all the more fulfilling.

Biggest accomplishment on staff?

At USA, I have always strived to identify and achieve my own goals. For example, during my first year on staff, I saw an opportunity to help students improve their schools’ game day experience. To do this, I created curriculum about how to unify the efforts of band, cheer, dance, and mascots to create a more spirited environment.

What does being AAPI mean to you? Has it had any influence on your dance career?

The Japanese cultural elements and language skills I absorbed as part of my upbringing have enriched my life by helping me create connections with Japanese people and those interested in Japanese culture. After graduating from high school, my mother bravely immigrated from Japan to the United States in spite of having limited English language skills and being only slightly familiar with its culture. Her self-determination inspires me in my life and career.

May 2021 – AAPI Coaches Feature

Hanna Factor Current Coach at Ridge High School and Seaton Hall University, Former UCA Staff Instructor

  • Industry history: Hanna has been coaching Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, NJ and Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ for 4 years in addition to being a UCA Staff Instructor for 8 years.
  • What Hannah loves most about coaching: The journey of seeing cheerleaders master new skills – from doing reps and staying determined, all the way to executing new skills with confidence, and the excitement that goes along with it.
  • Biggest accomplishment as a coach: Inspiring cheerleaders to become coaches themselves! “Watching them develop as coaches, taking what I’ve taught them, and honing their own coaching styles is the most rewarding feeling. It’s awesome seeing their growth from being my athletes to becoming my fellow coaches.”
  • “Being a Filipina has shaped the person I am today because I’ve learned how important representation is, not only in sports, but in life in general. Growing up, I was always looking for people who looked like me to look up to and be inspired by, and now, I feel I can help by being that person for others. I remember my first year coaching at SHU, during my first practice with the team, when one of my incoming freshmen, who was also of Asian descent, came up to me and showed me a photo of her in high school standing next to me when I was a UCA Camp Instructor. She told me how she wanted to take a photo with me because I, too, was Asian. That moment was so fulfilling because just by being one of her staffers at camp, I was able to help her feel like she belonged and that she could be successful in the cheerleading world!”

Megan SeeleyCurrent Coach of Papillion LaVista South Dance Team and No Limits All Stars

  • Industry history: Megan began dance at age three and continued as a studio dancer for 15 years, competing in studio dance for 10 years. In high school, Megan danced for Millard North and continued her dance journey in college as a Rock Chalk Dancer. Megan also shared her love for dance as an 8-year member of UDA Staff in addition to being a school and all star dance team coach.
  • Who inspired Megan on her journey: Eight years ago, Megan met Katie Anway when she was on UDA Staff. Katie was the UDA Competition Director and one of the first Asian women Megan saw in a leadership role. Megan’s hope is to inspire young Asian dancers through her role as a coach and instructor the same way Katie inspired her. Along her coaching journey, Megan was inspired by high school dance coaches Andrea Feltz and Mila O’Brien for their ability to create connections with dancers that last beyond graduation.
  • What Megan loves most about coaching: Building relationships and making connections with each of her dancers. As a full-time school social worker, Megan’s true passion is working with families and children to influence young lives.
  • “This year, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month means more than ever before. I have always been proud of my Asian American background, but oftentimes would attempt to conceal it to prevent any discriminatory comments or racism. With the rise in racial crime and the recent incidents of Asian hate, I am saddened to live in this world at this time, but also empowered to share my story and bring awareness and visibility. I believe that this year, AAPI month gives me a chance to speak out about my experience and encourage empathy and social justice to those discriminated against. I share my perspective to pave the path for my future children and for future Asian leaders to encourage change. Living as an Asian American is something I will never regret or hide. The qualities that make us diverse should be celebrated because it makes the world a more exciting and interesting place.”
Analisa Price Current Coach at CheerForce San Diego (NFINITY & FRENZY)

  • Industry history: Analisa has been in the cheer industry for 30 years, beginning her career at Champion Outlaws before moving to SoCal Elite. Shortly after, SoCal Elite merged with West Coast Mavericks to become part of the Cheer Force family, where Analisa has coached for the past 12 years.
  • What Analisa loves most about coaching: Teaching athletes more than cheerleading. Being able to teach her teams to be unselfish, responsible, reliable, trustworthy and dedicated are always at the top of her coaching agenda.
  • How Analisa’s heritage has shaped who she is today: Analisa’s family taught her to work hard for what she wants and stressed the importance of caring and showing love and respect. It’s those values and traditions that have shaped Analisa into who she is toady and cross over to her coaching philosophy.
  • “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the beauty of our people. It’s a time to gather, a time to share memories. It’s an opportunity to teach and learn our history and traditions.”

Celia KiogimaCurrent Head Cheer and STUNT Coach at Davenport University

  • Industry history: Celia started as a competitive gymnast but shifted her focus and passion to cheer. In 2009, she began teaching summer camps in Michigan, where she fell in love with coaching. From there, she went on to coach at West Ottawa High School for four years before transitioning to the collegiate level as the assistant coach at Davenport University. In 2016, Celia was hired as the Head Coach of the Cheer and STUNT programs at Davenport.
  • What Celia loves about coaching: The relationships made with athletes. Celia’s proud of the fact that she tries to remember every athlete she has ever coached, as every athlete teaches her something different. She loves seeing the women they turn out to be after cheer.
  • Favorite family tradition: The Korean tradition Doljabi, which is celebrated on a child’s first birthday. Doljabi is a tradition where the child is placed in front of various items or objects and encouraged to grab a couple objects. Each item represents a certain future of the child with respect to their career or lifestyle. As a new mom, Celia can’t wait to celebrate Doljabi with her little one!
  • “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a celebration of beautiful cultures and traditions. It takes time to recognize and honor the incredible influence that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have on the American culture and way of life.”