Meet Our Summer Camp Staff Who Lead With Love

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The role of a spirit squad member transcends far beyond the sidelines, football fields, competition floors, and practice mats. Spirit leaders are responsible for showing up for their peers, being ambassadors for their schools, community leadership, the list goes on…

There’s a lot to learn, and that’s why our Varsity Spirit Camp Instructors have been mentoring and training young spirit leaders for decades on how to be the best leaders and spirit raisers for their schools and communities. And although this summer may be a bit different, our instructors continue to show up to do their part to encourage and lead teams to victory on and off the sidelines and field. Leading with love is a big part of that leadership journey. Fifth year NDA Instructor, Ashley Marquardt, leads virtual camps and continues to mentor athletes in leadership and in spirit.

“To lead with love means that you are a compassionate cheerleader who can console and sometimes counsel others. As a head instructor, I like to keep this in mind when communicating with staff and campers. You may not know what someone is going through, and words have meaning and power. This year during Virtual Spring Training and my first Virtual Home Camp, I tried to create a fun and caring environment, so everyone feels safe and comfortable even in uncertainty,” Ashley says.

In these uncertain times, the Varsity Spirit instructors aim to bring out the best in each athlete they meet. “What better example could we be for each other than doing our best, giving what we can, and adding more light to the dark? Leading with love is inspiring others to choose the same and underlining the fact that we need one another to get through the tough times and that we are all the same,” said V!ROC Choreographer Vanessa Forsythe.

Our instructors know the power of spirit and leadership, and the positive impact that can come from being spirit leaders, especially in these challenging times. “I have continued to adapt as a mentor and leader in COVID-19 times by taking everything step-by-step,” Ashley says. “Our ideas may not always go according to plan, but adaptability is a trait I have certainly acquired. Continuing to work with spirit squads by leading with love is important to me because our time together is short, but extremely valuable for both of us.”

Varsity Spirit Camp Instructors know what it’s like to be an ambassador in the community and to their peers. They’ve been there themselves and understand how important it is to train their skills, but also grow as individuals throughout the process.  Imani McGlone-Peake, a veteran Urban Cheerleading Experience Instructor, tells us why she leads with love and why the camp experience is so important.

“To me cheer camp is deeper than just being at camp. The Urban Cheerleading Experience believes that cheer camp is for mentorship and growing the athletes beyond high school and college and into their personal lives… At cheer camp we teach life lessons, we talk about how to be better and control our emotions, how to work on our approach towards others and so much more…”

Imani is also the captain at Hampton University in Virginia and uses her leadership role within her team to make a difference with her peers and coach. “During my time as captain, I have always tried to make sure that my teammates felt and knew that I was there for them. My teammates and I have always had great communication even when switching coaches we still maintained great communication and we wanted to loop the coach in as well. We took the time out to make sure we expressed our traditions, values, and make sure that we brought our new coach in so she could feel a part of the team,” she says.

The impact one individual can have on so many is truly special, and being a spirit leader amplifies that opportunity. NCA Instructor, Lexi Conte, puts her whole heart into each camp in hopes of inspiring teams to love their role as cheerleaders.

“To me ‘lead with love’ means to lead from the heart. Cheerleading is my passion, I have been involved with cheer for the past 23 years in someway or another. When I log into my virtual camps my main goal is to give these athletes and coaches the best possible experience. I make sure I get to know the athletes and the coaches just like I would at a typical camp. I put my whole heart into each camp and hope at the end that each team has fallen a little more in love with cheerleading and with NCA,” Lexi says.

Virtual camps gave the instructors a chance to connect with their campers in a different way than they typically would have. “I loved seeing all my returning students come back to virtual camp with questions and excitement. They always had more to learn, and it seemed like a different side of their personality came out when they were in the comfort of their own homes,” said USA Instructor James Eichenbaum.  Some came into the lessons cautiously, but by the end they were chatty and grinning ear-to-ear.”

For those who’ve been on a spirit squad or coached a team before, you probably understand the love for cheer that Lexi mentions. And for many, that love translates into a passion for showing up in the community. As some camps have shifted to a virtual experience for the time being, veteran UCA Instructor Essence Slater has noticed that teams are really stepping up to meet the call for spirit in their communities — in every way they can. “While doing virtual camps, I have seen a lot of teams pushing to be involved in their communities even more during this time. For years, instructors have taught the importance of being an ambassador during Squad Credentialing and now cheerleaders are asking more questions about how they can help during this time,” Essence says.

Spirit leaders are adaptive and always ready to take on a challenge. UDA Instructor Liv Rodrigues has been able to see this first hand and is encouraged by the athletes’ ability to push through these strange times. “Regardless of each states’ current condition, these teams are demonstrating determination, positive attitudes, and finding light at the end of the tunnel. Through these unprecedented times, exhibiting such behavior will only make these athletes even stronger.”

We know summer camp and school may look different this year, but Varsity Spirit Instructors, teams, and coaches are stepping up to the call for amplified spirit, leading with love, and leading well. To learn more about ways you can show up in your community this school year, read our Back to School Spirit Guide.

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