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 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.