Celebrating Women's History Month

Every March, we come together to celebrate Women’s History Month and the many contributions of women throughout history. 

March 2024 – Trailblazers in Company History

Varsity Spirit celebrates 50 years in 2024. This Women’s History Month, we took the time to reflect on the impact from some of the female Varsity Legends. These amazing women have helped build the foundation of our company – and many still lead innovation today! Help us celebrate Women’s History Month and the accolades of these 5 women below.

Melanie Berry

Melanie is currently the Senior Vice President of Competitions and Special Events. She originally started as an instructor for Universal Drill Pom Association for 11 years, now simply known as the Universal Dance Association. In high school, Melanie competed at the inaugural National High School Cheerleading Championship. Today she continues to shape these championships to elevate the student experience. She has been an instrumental part of fostering our 30-year relationship with the Walt Disney World® Resort!

Kris Shepherd

Kris was a pioneer in how we see modern-day cheerleading and dance team both on the sidelines and the competition floor. She collaborated on the first cheerleading routine to music – a UCA college demo routine to the theme from the movie Rocky. She organized and administered the first NHSCC in 1980, the first College Cheerleading National Championship in 1983, the first NDTC in 1985 and the first UCA All Star trip to London for the London New Year’s Day Parade in 1985! These events continue to stand as a staple within our Varsity Spirit calendar year.

Becky Gennings

This year, Becky celebrates 47 years with UCA! She worked as an instructor for 20 years and her first full time position was a UCA Staffing Director. Later going on to be the Vice President of UCA and currently stands as the Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Community Relations! Becky’s dedication to the brand has helped foster the personable connection that millions have felt over the years.

Carol Wagers

Carol worked for NCA for 27 years! She completed her time with the company as the Senior Vice President of NCA. In the late 1980’s, Carol and her husband Lance created the All Star industry and executed the first All Star National Championship in Dallas, Texas. Today this event is known as the NCA All-Star National Champion – the largest cheerleading competition in the world! Carol and Lance were honored at the 2014 USASF Awards Gala, receiving The Pioneer Award for their part in developing the All Star industry. Carol is remembered as a true leader, in her roles she was compassionate and aware of others, but always true to herself.

Laurie Ryan Woodward

Laurie was Song Girl at USC, which led her to become a Songleader for United Spirit Association. She went on to lead USA as the Director of the Songleading program for several years! She later founded the San Francisco 49’ers Gold Rush Cheerleaders in 1983. Since their inaugural year, the 49’ers Gold Rush have appeared in 7 Super Bowls – including 2024! You’ll find Laurie in several of the early Varsity Spirit Fashion catalogs. Her accomplishments are plentiful and she continues to serve as an icon in the dance team industry today!

March 2023- Tenured Female Leaders in the Cheer, Dance, All Star and Band Industry

March is a time to recognize the amazing women who have dedicated many years to their craft and helped give students around the country impactful experiences. Join us in learning about these tenured coaches, gym owners and band directors.

Julie Horine

Julie is the Spirit Squad Director at Indiana University. She has been with the program for 30 years and prior to that cheered on the sidelines for the Hoosiers as well. Under Julie’s leadership the Crimson squad has earned 6 UCA National Championship Titles all while continuing to drive spirit within their University.

“Julie Horine has been a staple in the cheerleading industry for over 30 years! She has worked tirelessly on creating and establishing school & sideline pride for Indiana University! Her tremendous impact on the athletes from IU has instilled a sense of pride of being a Hoosier and that those athletes are always representing something bigger than themselves.” – Tony Nash

Jennifer Ramirez

Jennifer is the coach of Los Alamitos High School’s Varsity Song Team, along with the director of both song & cheer. She has over 35 years experience in the dance and cheer industry! Los Alamitos’ Song Team has obtained many National Titles in both the Pom and Jazz categories under her lead. This past February, the team secured their 5th consecutive Game Day National Championship – a division they have only competed in for 5 years!

“Jenn has the remarkable ability to combine humor and high expectations to get the very best out of the dancers she coaches. Her creativity and vision are a delight to witness up close. Truly an icon in our industry.” – Karl Mundt

Darlene Fanning

Darlene opened ICE All-Stars in Naperville, IL in 1996. Since then she has expanded her own gym, while opening up multiple gyms around the country – all while training athletes to be their best and obtain World Titles. Over the years, her gym has had appearances on/in Cheerleader Magazine, ESPN, Good Morning America, Fox Sports, The Cheer Leader Magazine, and numerous local newspapers, radio, and television stations.

Darlene has done so much more than just build a reputable gym/legacy, she builds up athletes. Darlene has helped thousands of athletes move onto college, learn teamwork, but more importantly she has helped them grow confidence. She has paved the way for the Midwest in our industry.  As a business woman, coach, and mentor, she will never know the depth of her impact on the lives of so many.” – Amy Yoder

Darnella Davidson

Darnella Davidson taught instrumental music in the Los Angeles Unified School District for thirty-eight years. Her legendary bands performed for such prestigious events as the Opening Ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics, National Football League games, on television and in film. er bands have shared the stage with numerous celebrities including Rosemary Clooney, Vanessa Carlton, Debbie Allen, George Lopez, and Pharrell Williams.

“Darnell Davidson’s impact on thousands of young people over her decades of teaching is profound, and since retiring from the classroom, her positive impact has only grown, especially her mentorship of young teachers through her tireless work as a clinician, adjudicator, music education advocate and simply as a friend to all who seek her out.”  – Pat Seidling

March 2022 – Female Icons in the History of Varsity Spirit

Varsity Spirit created the Varsity Legends to honor those who have made significant contributions to the Varsity Spirit legacy. From innovations in uniform designs, to the advancement of our camps and competitions, the Varsity Legends have played a pivotal role in elevating the profile of cheerleading and dance. This year, Varsity Spirit would like to recognize some of the women in the Varsity Legends who have impacted countless lives and created incredible opportunities for millions of athletes around the world.

Kris Shepherd

At 19 years old, Kris joined Jeff Webb to become one of the first 20 instructors for the Universal Cheerleaders Association. Kris collaborated on the first cheerleading routine to music – a UCA college demo routine in 1976 to the theme from the movie Rocky. This concept propelled cheerleading into the entertainment arena, which eventually led to the creation of the modern cheerleading competition format. Kris organized and administered the first National High School Cheerleading Championship in 1980, among others shortly after. As the leader of the Special Events division at Varsity in the 80’s, she developed additional performance opportunities for cheerleaders as well, including the first UCA All American (formerly known as “All Star”) trip to London for the New Year’s Day Parade in 1985. After 43 years, Kris retired from her role as Executive Vice President at Varsity Brands and the Executive Producer of the National Championships on ESPN.

Carol Wagers

Carol Wagers and her husband and stunt partner, Lance, both embarked on their cheerleading careers during college (at the University of Colorado and Oklahoma State University, respectively). In the early 1970s, Carol worked as a camp instructors for National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) under founder Lawrence Herkimer. Through the years, Carol made her way up the NCA ranks from Instructor to Head Instructor to Personnel Director to Senior Vice President. Carol was instrumental in expanding NCA to include more summer camps and regional, national and international competitions. The Wagers are responsible for introducing cheerleading to several countries and modernizing it in many others. In the early 1990s, Carol created the All Star industry and executed the first All Star National Championship in Dallas, Texas. Carol was honored at the 2014 USASF Awards Gala and received The Pioneer Award for her part in developing the All Star industry.

Sharon Dunseath

Sharon was the head cheerleader at the University of Arkansas at the time when she decided to try out for UCA Staff. Sharon worked many years for UCA as a high school and college camp instructor before she began her full-time career as the UCA Staff Coordinator. One of Sharon’s most notable contributions to Varsity Spirit was during her time as the Director of the National High School Cheerleading Championship, when she created the idea of what is known today as “The White Jacket”. She moved on to helping develop the first UCA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship in Hawaii, as well as the first UDA National Dance Team Championship in Cypress Gardens. Sharon was instrumental in the early ages of staff coordination and travel assignments and developed the system of how “staffing” is done today.

Laurie Ryan Woodward

Laurie was a Song Girl at USC, which led to her to become a Songleader for United Spirit Association. Her success as a dance icon contributed to her becoming the Director of the Songleading program at USA for several years. Laurie modeled in the very early years of Varsity Spirit Fashions and appeared in the first catalog. She was one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Laker Girls, participating from 1979-1981, and founded the San Francisco 49’ers Gold Rush Cheerleaders in 1983 and directed the team until 1992. Laurie pioneered the start of many west coast professional NBA and NFL Dance Teams.

  • Golden State Warriors
  • San Diego Chargers
  • Sacramento Kings
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Denver Nuggets

Laurie has made a lifetime out of her passion, contributions, and achievements in the dance community, and still serves as an icon in the dance world today.

March 2021 – Coaches Spotlight

Every March, we come together to celebrate Women’s History Month and the many contributions of women throughout history. This year, Varsity Spirit would like to recognize some of the most decorated female coaches in cheer and dance and celebrate their achievements.

Misty Hodges – Current Head Cheerleading Coach, University of Louisville All Girl & Co Owner GymTyme

Starting out as a gymnast at the age of 3, Misty transitioned to cheerleading during the 4th grade, continuing through high school and going on to cheer on the University of Louisville Large Coed Team (1990-1995). Following graduation, Misty stayed on with U of L Large Coed as an assistant coach, then started the University of Louisville All Girl team in 1998 and the Small Coed team in 2004. In addition to working with Louisville, Misty coached many local school programs as well as being a part of NCA staff. When GymTyme opened in 1991, Misty began coaching and has coached there for the last 30 years, becoming a part-owner in 2000. She has also had the opportunity to coach Team USA All Girl in 2012& 2013.

Notable Achievements:

  • 16x NCA College National Champion (All Girl Coach)
  • 10 ]x NCA College National Champion (Small Coed Coach)
  • 2x NCA College National Champion (Large Coed)
  • 20x World Champion (GymTyme)
  • 2x ICU World Champion (Team USA)
  • Coached multiple Summit Champion teams

Misty’s advice for young athletes: “Sports are a privilege. If you get the chance to be on any team, it comes with great responsibility. The lessons learned from team sports help develop life skills. Focus not only on the physical skills, but the vital life skills you are learning. Time management with school, work ethic, respecting teammates, winning, losing and being humble along the way. These are all lessons for life. Have fun, set achievable goals and celebrate each success along the way!”

Stephanie Manuel Former Coach, St. Thomas More Sparklers, Current Owner, The Dance Warehouse

From 1989 to 1991, Stephanie was a member of the nationally-ranked St. Thomas More Sparklers. Beginning in 1992, Stephanie began coaching and choreographing for the St. Thomas More Sparklers and continued for the next 23 years. In addition to coaching, Stephanie has worked and choreographed for nationally ranked college and high school dance teams across the country. Stephanie continued to share her love for dance by instructing and choreographing for UDA for 12 years, serving as the district representative for 6 years, and judging for UDA College Nationals and many other major competitions.  After graduating from The University of Southwestern, Stephanie opened The Dance Warehouse which she has been teaching and choreographing for over 3 decades.

Notable Achievements:

  • 16x UDA National Champion (Jazz & Pom – St. Thomas More)
  • Choreographed for multiple college and high national champions and nationally-ranked teams
  • ESPN commentator for the UDA College Dance Team Championship

Kim Gaskin – Current Head Coach, Burlington Township High School

Kim, a former BT cheerleader, began coaching at Burlington Township in 1989 and steps into every new season knowing not only can she help turn an athlete into a great cheerleader but into a great person. “I don’t just coach an athlete for a practice or a competition or a national championship. I coach an athlete for life. In this program, we care about you for life.” It’s this outlook that keeps Kim coaching. Over the years, she is grateful for her long time assistant, Coach Sorina and all her coaches who have made the program a success. TEAM Burlington, the program’s motto, represents the importance of diversity and inclusion- Together Everyone Achieves More.

Notable Achievements:

  • 3x UCA NSHCC Champion
  • 1x UCA Game Day National Champion
  • Over 20 State Championship Titles
  • Featured in the 2013 American Cheerleader the Movie
  • Long time President of the NJ Cheer and Dance Coaches Association

Kim’s advice for young coaches: Today, having the title ‘coach’ has such a bigger responsibility than it’s ever had before. The accountability and the empowerment you must demonstrate goes way beyond a competition or a trophy. It goes beyond the love of cheerleading. How you go about getting an athlete to success takes work. Skills and knowledge come easy to most coaches. It’s fostering the emotional intelligence in athletes that separates the good coaches from the great coaches.”

Elaine Pascale – Current Owner of World Cup All Stars in Freehold, NJ 

Elaine Pascale was first a basketball coach that took her girls high school team to win the New Jersey state championship. She turned down an opportunity to coach one of the very first women’s college basketball teams and instead enlisted the help of her daughter, Joelle Antico, to begin coaching Pop Warner cheerleaders. When the team aged out of Pop Warner, Joelle and Elaine took those same cheerleaders and established the Shooting Stars, their first all star cheer team. Shortly after, the Shooting Stars’ younger sisters wanted a team of their own, and the Starlights were created. In 2001, Elaine and Joelle decided to turn their hobby into a business. They took on the name of the gymnastics facility they rented space from and called themselves World Cup All Stars. Between then and now, Elaine has spoken to hundreds of coaches and gym owners, coached thousands of athletes, given back to countless charities in their Freehold community, and earned many titles. But the title she will always be most grateful for is mom to Joelle, Janee, & “T” and grandmother to Gianna and Mikey. These days, Elaine stills spends her days in the gym, coaching her coaches and mentoring her athletes, loving each of them like family. She travels a little less but stays very connected to kids who “keep her young at heart.” Elaine is truly a gift and inspiration to our all star cheer industry.

Notable Achievements:

  • USASF Hall Of Fame Member
  • USASF Pioneer Award Recipient
  • 6x World Champion (World Cup Shooting Stars – Large Senior L6)
  • 2x World Champion (World Cup Starlites – Large Junior L6)
  • Worlds Bronze Medalists (World Cup Odyssey – Large Senior Limited Co-ed)
  • Coaching Shooting Stars and awarding scholarships to her graduating athletes

Elaine’s advice for athletes: “If you define yourself by a trophy, then there can only be one winner. But we can all be champions in life, using cheerleading as our vehicle to influence and connect with people.