New WO Varsity Cheer coaches plan to rebuild program “from the ground up”


   At the West Ottawa Cheer team’s traditional candlelight ceremony, tears poured from athletes’ eyes as the Varsity coaches Brianna Lopez and Emily Veldkamp announced their resignation after five years of leading the WO cheer program. Leaving behind a saddened team, the coaches left members wondering how the program would move forward. That’s where coaches Mindy Vork and Jaylyn McCloy stepped in. 

   West Ottawa cheer said goodbye to the Varsity cheer coaches that have been there for the past five years. Interviews for new coaches began early this spring. The Junior Varsity cheer were soon welcomed as the new Varsity cheer coaches. 

WO cheer is in good hands

   Vork’s cheerleading began in high school. “I cheered for three years in high school and then went on to cheer for two years at Hope College.” After cheering at the collegiate level for two years, she suffered her third concussion and had to make the difficult decision to leave cheer as an athlete because she could not continue to participate. 

    She did not allow this setback to get in the way of her love and passion for cheerleading. Vork said “Not ready to be done with cheer, I had the opportunity to coach.” She was able to continue to be a part of the cheer community, just in a different way. 

“I coached  three years years at the Freshman and JV levels in Zeeland, then came over to West Ottawa where I coached three years at the 7th grade level and four years at the 8th grade level at Harbor Lights. I took some time off for my family and returned to coaching at the JV level in 2017, where I’ve been for the past six years.”

McCloy has a great amount of coaching experience. “This upcoming year will be my 10th year coaching at West Ottawa. I have coached at all levels; three years at middle school, one season as the freshman coach, three seasons at the varsity level, and four years at the JV level,” McCloy said. 

McCloy cheered at the high school and collegiate level as well. “Prior to coaching, I had cheered for 6 years at West Ottawa and a season at Grand Valley State University.”

These coaches have lots of experience coaching and cheering at many levels. This will be a great asset to the cheer program. They have the drive, passion, and experience to help build the WO cheer program and varsity team. 

What are their plans for WO cheer?

   McCloy and Vork’s goal for the West Ottawa Cheer program is to make it one of the premier programs on the WestSide of Michigan. Vork said, “I believe a strong program is built from the bottom up and I plan to spend time developing our elementary and middle school programs to help strengthen our program as a whole.”

   To build the program from the start, they plan to provide training and support for the cheer coaching staff to help them be successful and bring continuity to the program. Another one of their plans is to work with outside resources. “I also plan to work with the Holland Charter Township rec department to build more program offerings at the elementary level,” Vork said.

   Since Competitive Cheer is completely distinct from sideline, Vork would love to implement an elementary level team that would perform exhibition and gain experience of being on the mat in front of judges. Gaining experience of performing on the mat is important because that is a significant category that can make or break a team.

   Similarly, McCloy wants athletes of all ages to have the opportunity to succeed. “I think the experience I have will help ensure we are dedicating efforts at each level and making sure our athletes are getting the time they need to successfully work on their skills and learn the sport.”

   Vork said, “Another thing I would love to implement is to have our own tumbling coaches.” Tumbling is an area where the West Ottawa cheer team is weak. She suggests “Having tumbling coaches that can be at practices multiple days a week can help us develop our tumbling at a faster rate than having tumbling sessions once a week.” 

   McCloy and Vork wish to create unity and a family atmosphere within the team. Vork said, “I believe by bringing unity among all the teams, student athletes will have a sense of belonging in the program.”

What do former coaches have to say? 

   Jenn Roels, former Varsity cheerleader and coach at West Ottawa shared her accomplishments as a Junior Varsity and Varsity coach.  “When I coached JV in 2008 they were the best JV team in the entire state of Michigan having the highest scores in all three rounds and the highest average score,” Roles said. This was huge back then; they were the first West Ottawa Junior Varsity team to beat Rochester. 

   Roels said “Some of the most successful things I accomplished in my time coaching were not all the wins and titles, while those were great… the best thing that came out of it were the connections and relationships I had with my athletes.” She mentions that she still connects with her athletes to this day.

   Roles believes in WO cheer and wants to see them succeed. She said “My hopes and dreams for the WO cheer program is to build starting from middle school up.  Build in skills, character, and numbers. Let’s get back to being competitive against the best of the best!” 

   Erin Chadnonet cheered for six years and coached Varsity for three years at West Ottawa. Being Top four in district and making it to regional competition twice were her greatest accomplishments. 

   Chadnonets’ style of coaching was relationship focused. “I created opportunities for athletes to shine as leaders on the mat and positive role models in our school and community.”   

   She had consistent and clear expectations for her athletes and held them to high standards of excellence athletically. One of the most impactful methods of her coaching was drilling techniques and basics to build the foundation for elite skills. 

   Chadnonet will forever root for the success of WO cheer. She said, “My hope for the WO cheer program is that the new coaches continue the long tradition of excellence and that the athletes in the program learn valuable skills of teamwork, hard work, mental toughness and grit that they can carry with them the rest of their lives. ”

   Monica Harrington cheered at West Ottawa previously and coached for five years with Chandonet. Harrington valued athletes outside of competition scores as well. “Breaking down a mental block is incredibly challenging and navigating athletes through that confidence-building process was my “why” as a coach. I saw those as a bunch of little successes along the way,” Harrington said. 

   Harrington shared that their coaching techniques changed from season to season. They kept one thing consistent. “One thing we did stay firm with is letting the team build their intrinsic motivation to succeed. We could say all the right words and cheer at all the right times when going through rounds, but what it truly came down to was each individual athlete’s motivation and a collective drive as a team,” Harrington said. 

   Harrington has big dreams for WO cheer as well. “I hope that future cheerleaders create a common mindset to never settle. It is so easy to be comfortable with your skills and not go for new ones because it’s daunting. When opportunities arise to make something more challenging or to learn how to throw a new skill, take it,” Harrington said. 

   Harrington stresses the importance of building strong relationships with your teammates. “Once you have that trust and love for each other, adding the physical and mental challenge that is cheerleading, gets that much easier,” Harrington said.

   Lastly, Harrington wants to encourage future and current cheerleaders to “be proud to be a WO cheerleader; we are resilient and we have grit.”

   Emily Veldkamp and Brianna Lopez were former cheerleaders at West Ottawa. They coached West Ottawa cheer for five years before turning in their keys this year. Veldkamp said, “One of our biggest accomplishments while coaching at West Ottawa consisted of always instilling hard work. This mentality grew a team minded atmosphere, which encouraged growth among the entire team, as well as individually.” 

   “Our last season coaching we had many accomplishments which we are proud of. Our team worked so hard in our sideline season to have team full ups for competitive season. Along with that, 100% of our team gained a new skill during our competitive season,” Veldkamp said.

   Veldkamp expresses how coaches are always learning to find better techniques to create a successful team. Over the last few years, they found a number of techniques that worked for them. She said, “Sports are not only about the physical performance, but the mental performance too. Understanding you can’t have one without the other was very eye opening to us.”

   “It was always important to us to first create a strong bond and trust among the team with team bonding activists, camps, clinics, etc. We also made sure to ‘front load’ the hard work into sideline, so once competitive season came, we could hit the ground running,” Veldkamp said.

   As Veldkamp and Lopez pass their keys to McCloy and Vork, they hope the new coaches instill hard work and motivation into every athlete, prepare them physically and mentally for the performance, and always be pushing them to want more for themselves individually and as a team.

WO Cheer will continue to foster a family atmosphere

   Although it was sad to see the past Varsity Cheer coaches go, the Varsity cheer team welcomes the incoming coaches. Vork’s and McCloy’s cheer background will continue to help the team succeed in the upcoming season. Enthusiasm and determination are significant values that will initiate change in the new and improved cheer program at West Ottawa. 

  “Once you’re a part of our cheer family, you’re always a part of it. I like to use the saying ‘once a panther, always a panther.’ Because no matter how long or how far, you are always welcome back with open arms,” McCloy said. The WO cheer program will continue to be a family with these new coaches.