Celebrating Pride Month

June celebrates Pride Month, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.

June 2023 – V!ROC Choreographer Highlight

This June, Varsity Spirit recognizes Hank Light, one of our top V!ROC Choreographers. Light is passionate about his role with V!ROC and also supports Varsity Spirit as a State Director for Kentucky.

Hank Light V!ROC Choreographer
  • At what point did you realize you wanted to be a choreographer? My sister cheered competitively in high school and later became a coach at Greenup County High School. Coming from a single parent home, I was often at practices and games with her. I instantly began to love cheerleading and started to take note of my own choreography ideas in a notebook.
  • What is your favorite part about being a V!ROC Choreographer?  My favorite part about being a V!ROC Choreographer are the people that I have gotten to meet. My clients are so important to me, I aim to treat all of my teams with importance and respect. Getting to travel to the same schools year after year has become a parallel to visiting old friends! 
  • What has been one of your greatest achievements or memories as a V!ROC Choreographer, so far? It is hard to choose the greatest achievement or memory over my time as a choreographer so far. I don’t think I can narrow it down to one experience, but I will say that being a part of any team’s ‘first win’ is incredible. Whether that first win is making it out of prelims, making it to finals, or bringing home the gold.
  • Who in the LGBTQ+ community inspires you?  Oh gosh, this is a tough one! I think the first person who truly made an impact on me was the Olympic diver, Greg Louganis when he revealed to the world seven years that after being injured in the 1988 games that he had been diagnosed with HIV right before the games.   Now there are so many people in the entertainment industry who inspire me every dayBilly Porter on the show POSE really had a big impact on me.   He has a way of being a shining light in any room, and he helped me as a professional adult gay male realize that I can be whoever I want.
  • What does Pride mean to you, and how are you celebrating this year? Pride means a lot to me after growing up in the 80’s and hiding who I was for so many years. It took me until I was 24 years old to come out to my mother. She passed away a year later, but I think she would be proud of me and the acceptance/celebration of the queer community today!
  • Please share a fun fact about you! I think the most fun fact about me is that I’m a twin. We are fraternal in every way! I think another fun fact is my own cheer background. Where I grew up, there wasn’t much involvement of boys in cheerleading. As I noted before, my love initially grew from my sister’s coaching at Greenup. By the time I was 19, I was very focused on fitness and decided I would try out for the “Lady Cats” while I attended the University of Kentucky. This team cheered for women’s basketball at the time. At one of the clinics, I injured myself while catching a cradle… SinceI had already started working in choreography, I decided to stick with that! And the rest is history! 

June 2022 – Varsity Spirit Coach Highlight

This June, Varsity Spirit recognizes Troy Allen, Head Cheerleading Coach at the University of Mississippi – Ole Miss. Allen leads his teams with inclusivity in mind and works to create a space where all feel welcomed.

Troy Allen Coordinator of Athletic Spirit Groups & Head Cheerleading Coach, University of Mississippi – Ole Miss
  • At what point in your cheerleading career did you realize you wanted to become a coach? I knew after my Freshman year of college that working in college athletics and coaching was the career path for me. I had an incredible coach named Julie Stevens, who took a chance on a small-town kid from Idaho who was very green. She was motivating, caring and would not let me settle. She along with my teammates pushed me every day and it was hard but it was so worth it. We cheered at the Fiesta Bowl that year and getting to see my University compete/win against a powerhouse school and all the pageantry that went along with it really caught my eye and opened up my world view to what was really out there
  • What’s been your greatest achievement or favorite memory as a coach? My greatest achievement as a coach was actually this 2021-2022 season that I just completed with Ole Miss. I took over as the Head Cheer Coach in Mid-November and had to create an environment that wanted to grow and succeed after getting another new head coach as well as start fostering a culture of positivity. I had an amazing support system in my Director of Spirit and my two assistant coaches. We got to work and the 4 of us were able to bring the program together as one, become extremely motivated and build on what it meant to really be an Ole Miss Rebel. Winning the Division 1A All Girl Game Day category was the cherry on top but watching All Girl, COED and the Rebelettes turn into a true Spirit Squad and support our mission was the greatest accomplishment.
  • What does Pride mean to you, and how are you celebrating this year?
    • Pride means that you have the ability to be your truest and most honest version of yourself and that waking up in the morning with a smile on your face no longer has to be a dream. I realized that I chose the best University to work for when I was typing up my biography for my “Welcome to Oxford” post that the Athletic Department puts out when a coach is hired.“I was nervous about stating that I was thankful for the support of my husband during the process and how he pushed me to achieve my goals. However I was embraced with open arms about my relationship at Ole Miss. It was that conversation that made me realize how lucky I am to not only have this incredible job but that my journey to being me was worth it and I was finally home!
    • I plan on celebrating Pride this year with the greatest group of friends (gay and straight) and my husband by sharing photos my of wedding, going to the lake and just enjoying the strong support system I have built. Being proud of who I am isn’t just about the month of June. It’s about being the best version of myself all year. So, you can catch me on the boat with my friends, in The Grove encouraging my athletes to get better each day or on the sideline in Vaught-Hemingway cheering the Rebs on! I love that I get to be open about who I am and it makes me incredibly proud to coach the teams I do at the University of Mississippi.
  • How do you prioritize inclusion within your program? The University provides Diversity and Inclusion training for all staff, coaches and our athletes. The training is a group of seminars where we have open discussions on how to better our thought processes and how to ensure that each program is able to see things from multiple viewpoints. We work to make sure that Ole Miss feels like and stays a place that everyone wants to come to. As a program we use the phrase “Come to The Sip” to show that there is a spot somewhere on this campus for each person. We work with the teams on campus to show unity and that all programs are working to provide inclusive teams.
  • Who in the LGBTQ+ community inspires you?  My “celebrity” inspiration is Robbie Rogers who played in the MLS for several teams. He was only the second player to come out publicly and play at the level he did. He motivates me to get better each day because of his work ethic, his Catholic faith and the determination he had to succeed. He was able to succeed in the sport industry, be true to himself and ultimately ended up married and has two children. He is the perfect example of getting what you want, not losing your trust in God and that standing up for yourself is your greatest power.
  • Please share a fun fact about you! My interesting fact is that I grew up in a military family and was stationed all over the world. I got to see my parents succeed because of their hard work and that is what pushed me to follow my dreams. My friends and family often tell me that I definitely do things my own way, but that has been my greatest motivator. I don’t fit in a box, I don’t fit in a label, I’m just Troy and that is all I can be. I am a former college cheerleader who loves game day more than anything. I love to be outside and I love to be surrounded by my friends. I will talk sports, help in the yard or just go for a walk. I have created the best version of me possible. My story has so many chapters to it, being openly gay is just part of it. Let me tell you about living in Okinawa, how September 11th affected my life, what it was like to cheer or how cool my husband is…I promise it’s worth the time!

June 2021 – Spirit Spotlight

CHEER San Francisco knows that everyone needs a cheerleader. The adult, all-volunteer charitable cheer team uses cheer performances to raise awareness and support for beneficiaries that assist those living with life challenging conditions.  Founded in 1980, CHEER San Francisco is the world’s first LGBTQ-identified cheerleading team and have used their platform to shine a light on and support the LGBTQ+ community.

“Being a part of CHEER San Francisco is a very special and rewarding experience for me because I’m able to carry on the legacy of a few gay men who in 1980 had the brilliant idea to use cheerleading as a means of raising spirits in the LGBTQ community during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.” – Anthony Chavira – Program Director, CHEER San Francisco

Shortly after inception, CHEER San Francisco established themselves as a non-profit organization and began doing work under their non-profit, the CHEER for Life Foundation, which has remained their main focus for philanthropy. Since CHEER for Life was established in 2003, the team has raised and donated over $500,000 for local, national, and international non-profits who provide services to those living with breast cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life challenging conditions. During the height of the COVID Pandemic, CHEER San Francisco was able to give $60,000 in grants to beneficiaries. CHEER San Francisco is also the first and only partner organization of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, where they’ve shared the stage for performances with LGBA for over 10 years at national and international events.

In addition to CHEER for Life, CHEER San Francisco is a proud founding Member Team of the Pride Cheerleading Association (PCA), which serves to develop, support and unite charitable cheer teams worldwide under the philanthropic mission of supporting the LGBTQ+ community through the power of performance fundraisers. The PCA is also part of an association that sends its member teams to the Gay Games, an international event for charitable cheer teams like CHEER San Francisco, that takes place every four years. CHEER San Francisco is the only team to have participated in all nine Gay Games.

As the world’s first LGBTQ+ identified cheer team, CHEER San Francisco goes all out to share and spread their spirit during Pride Month! The Pride Month celebration usually kicks off in May at Long Beach Pride alongside with the sister teams from the PCA. The team carries on the celebration with a four-weekend marathon of spirited performances in the San Francisco Bay Area, ending with two days filled with performances at San Francisco Pride.

“For me Pride month is a mix of things. It’s acceptance and celebration, a visual reminder of how far we’ve come and how strong we are as a community, while on the other hand being a good reminder of how much more work still needs to be done so that everyone in the LGBTQ+ community can feel as safe, loved and accepted as we do here in San Francisco.” – Anthony Chavira

Over the past three decades, CHEER San Francisco has impacted the lives of thousands worldwide through performance and fundraising and earned themselves an impressive list of notable achievements. Check out a few highlights and view their entire list of accolades here.

  • Performed at The World Champion Golden State Warriors halftime shows for LGBT nights in 2010, 2017 and 2018
  • Named the Official Cheer Team of the City and County of San Francisco
  • Became the first cheer team to advance to the Top 48 on America’s Got Talent in 2010
  • In 2002, became the first American cheerleading team to perform in Singapore
  • Received the first 2 team Gold Medals for Cheerleading in Gay Games history at Gay Games 8 in Cologne, Germany
  • Became the first LGBTQ-identified cheer team to be invited to perform at a US Presidential Inauguration in 1997

CHEER San Francisco has been attending a Varsity Spirit Summer Camp since 2016. We can’t wait to see them again soon!

Interested in learning more or supporting CHEER San Francisco? Visit their website to get started!

June 2021 – Varsity Spirit Pride Feature

Travis Neese West Regional Sales Manager, Varsity Spirit

  • Tell us about your role within your department. What do you love most about your job? I am the West Regional Sales Manager for the Training Education Division. I love that I get to do what I love as a “job”. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with my incredible team of State & Staffing Directors as well as the Coaches and Athletes we create experiences for each day.
  • What’s been your greatest achievement or favorite memory while working here? I started as a UCA Staff Instructor in 1999 and have never looked back. I have worked in pretty much every department and capacity of the company, as a Camp Instructor, State & Staffing Director, Events, Apparel Rep and more. This company has helped me grow into the person I am today, because of the unique opportunities we are given at a moments notice, to jump in and make great things happen. I have made my best friends and mentors through Varsity and will forever be grateful for the experiences, confidence and leadership skills I have gained. My favorite memory was having the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at NHSCC during the ESPN show.
  • What does Pride mean to you, and how are you celebrating this year? PRIDE means being unapologetically thankful for who I am and having true, self-love. It means
    acknowledging & supporting the LGBTQ+ community, especially the youth, to make sure they have a voice and feel loved. We all have the power to create a more inclusive world. Take action and be the example.
  • Who in the LGBTQ+ community inspires you? RuPaul for being a champion on self-expression, self-love and encouraging the world to just be kind. That is true inspiration on how to be a good human and make a greater impact in this world by promoting diversity & inclusion and acceptance for everyone.
  • Please share a fun fact about you! I can quote the movie Clueless verbatim, and sometimes have full conversations with friends, using only scripted lines from the movie.
  • Favorite Quote: “I would like to say this. Tardiness is not something you can do on your own. Many people contributed to my tardiness. I would like to thank my parents for never giving me a ride to school, the LA city bus driver who took a chance on an unknown kid, and last but not least, the wonderful crew at McDonald’s who spend hours making those egg McMuffins without which I might never be tardy.” -Travis Birkenstock.