The Ambassadors

Sunday morning, while other students sleep in, the ambassadors of TPHS wake early. 

“Sunday is a work day,” Julia Lane (12), a member of the TPHS varsity cheer team, said. 

This side of the cheer program is often hidden. Their weekends spent studying after Friday games and team bus rides spent reading textbooks are veiled behind their ever-present positivity and overshadowed by their daring stunts.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to be a high school cheerleader, but I knew it was going to be hard,” Lane said.

This dedication has not only earned the cheer team their ambassador title, but also their most recent honor: recognition as the Mission Fed All Academic Team for Cheerleading in the North County Conference for Fall Sports, an award given to the cheer team with the highest grade point average in North County San Diego. 

“I was surprised that we won because it’s such a big honor, but I wouldn’t expect anything less because I’ve seen all the hard work that my team puts in,” Lane said.

This is the second time in the last three years that the TPHS Varsity cheer team has won this award, according to cheer coach Suzanne Chodorow.

In addition to the team honor, Paloma Ezzet (12) was recognized by the North County Conference for Fall Sports as the Scholar-Athlete Captain, awarding her exceptional efforts in both athletics and academics.

While this honor recognizes her individually, she says the cheer team is defined by collaboration and equal status, both on the field and off. Instead of a team captain, cheer is led by a senior class divided into various leadership roles, including a choreographer and a chant leader.

“The nature of having a captain is that the captain will become a little bossy. That’s not what cheer is about,” Ezzet said. “We’re very collaborative, welcoming and helpful.”

This bond not only allows the team to perform technical stunts that require immense trust, but also enables them to thrive in their academics.

“Cheer girls stick together,” Lane, who described the team as an expression of “sisterhood,” said, “If there’s friends on the cheer team in my class, we’ll help each other out by studying together …especially during practice.”

This year’s cheer team has 51 members. Spanning four grades and varying levels of experience, the team has found a way to maintain this familiar connection: respect.

“Seniority is a big thing on cheer,” Ezzet said. “We really place an emphasis on respecting other people, especially people older than you.”

Alexis De Fina (11), another member of the varsity cheer team, said that she relied on the advice of the seniors to build her class schedule.

“I definitely have a lot of girls that I look up to on the team,” she added.

Whether this respect emerges in the seniors’ ability to lead practices or the team’s academic collaboration, there is no doubt that each member of the cheer team “recognizes that their sport is bigger than themselves,” cheer PE coach Heather Lopez said.

To Lopez, the sisterhood, collaboration and respect that define cheerleaders and allow them to be well-rounded students are evidenced by their role as school ambassadors. Not only does the team’s academic honor elicit pride in Lopez, but it also conveys that her athletes are being recognized for their hard work and “humble” sport.

“Their whole sport is about cheering other people on and I just think the nature of that is a beautiful thing,” she said. “I’m glad they’re finally getting recognized because their whole sport is about recognizing and taking care of others.”

She hopes that the award will get the team the “respect they deserve.”

Cheer was recognized by the International Olympic Committee as an Olympic sport — a status that has long been debated — in 2021, an accomplishment that further validates the team’s work.

“Cheer being recognized as an Olympic sport is really great in the sense that now younger cheerleaders won’t feel insecurity about what they’re devoting so much of their time to,” Ezzet said.

While some on the cheer team feel that their audiences do not always recognize their dedication, the cheer team values each performance in front of their peers.

“I feel a wave of pride for our school because I’m so happy to see everybody coming together,” Lane said. “It goes from a typical school day with everybody in their individual groups to one big community all coming together to support each other.”

De Fina agreed.

“You get to feel part of something bigger,” she said.

As the cheer team enters the basketball season, they will don their uniforms for the next 11 months, cheering at charity events and practicing at summer training in addition to supporting TPHS sports. Their early mornings and studies on buses will continue, reminders of their dedication not only to their sport but also to their school. Their community will build, as each stunt and each homework session solidifies the sense of sisterhood. This commitment and love for their school is truly a cheerleader’s regular schedule, but what else could be expected from the ambassadors of TPHS.

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