MMA welcomes back cheer squad

Marine Military Academy of Harlingen has a new cheerleading squad, consisting of students from other high schools in Harlingen and the surrounding cities. Cheerleaders include Amber Cardenas, Danika Ramirez, Emily "Meme" Appell, Melanie Wren, Annabel Reyes, Julian Castaneda, Victoria Scarberry, Ariel Lopez, Lailan Sanchez and Krystal Ramirez. Courtesy Photo

HARLINGEN — What used to be faint memories and old cheerleading trophies has now been revitalized by a new squad.

Marine Military Academy used to have cheerleaders back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, but soon after that the tradition stopped.

Now, a new group of high school students from Harlingen and surrounding areas are bringing back the forgotten school spirit.

Kristin Luckey, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at MMA, had the idea of starting a new squad.

The history of a cheerleading squad hits close to home since Luckey’s mother was an MMA cheerleader herself along with her friends.

“I believe in the late 90s was the last year they had cheerleaders. I really don’t know why they quit having them,” Luckey said.

“The fact it is an all-boys school. We have to really reach out when it involves girls, and I think it was probably more of a sponsor issue. You have to coach them and sponsor them,” she said.

Luckey added there are Universal Cheerleaders Association awards from the 60s and 70s as well as spirit batons memorialized inside showcases on campus, which prove how involved cheerleaders used to be at MMA.

“I want to say there were six or seven in the team back then, and they were from other high schools, too,” Luckey said.

A fond memory her mother shared with her is how back in the day, girls would receive so many homecoming mums they could barely walk, said Luckey.

“ I think back then most of the students were from Texas, and they were familiar with Texas football traditions. But now we have students from all over the world,” she said.

“Our mascot is from Tamaulipas, and he has no idea what homecoming is. And I think for a lot of them it is neat; they get to experience a little bit of traditional Texas football — Friday night lights, the cheerleaders, the mums. I think it is kind of cool they get to experience it,” Luckey said.

The school mascot is a bulldog, but it’s known as a leatherneck, which is the traditional Marine mascot.

Being able to bring a closer high school experience to the MMA boys is what prompted Luckey to start a new cheerleading squad.

“I kind of wanted to give them a taste of regular high school and having the regular sports and cheerleaders. And we are hoping once COVID ends, we get to celebrate the birthday ball,” she said about an annual formal event at MMA.

“Over the last couple of years, the cadets don’t really get out and get to meet local people as much. I thought the cheerleaders would be a really good way to start to involve our cadets with our local community more,” she said.

So far, there have been several football games where the cheerleaders have been present. Luckey added the reaction from parents and staff members has been positive toward the new squad.

“So many parents have been emailing me and calling me. I have one mom who used to be a cheerleader in Dallas, and she was so excited. And she is making mums for every cheerleader and goodie bags. We have gotten a really good response,” she said.

The new squad was created just recently, amid COVID-19.

Luckey said she had full support from the president at MMA, who has stressed the importance of athletics for the academy.

Luckey announced on social media virtual tryouts were going to be held. Those trying out had to learn three different cheers and had to send videos back to Luckey. Also, they had to do two jumps of their choice.

Luckey chose former cheer captains from Harlingen South as judges for the video tryouts.

“It was a combination of the tryout videos and their academics. We are very strict with their academics. School always comes first. If they make C’s, they are not allowed to continue in the team,” she said.

“We want girls who are involved in other activities such as basketball, softball, ROTC. That was really important to have people in the team as good representatives of MMA,” Luckey said.

The team is coached by Luckey and practice happens twice a week.

Luckey added the team has made her proud by managing their activities and doing good with the team.

“We are so happy to have them as part of our MMA family,” she said.

Amber Cardenas, 17, attends Santa Rosa High School, and Emily Appell, 17, attends Harlingen High. Cardenas is currently the MMA cheer captain and has been cheering since she was 6 years old.

This is Appell’s first time cheerleading.

“I have always been interested in it and now that there was a chance for me to do it, I decided to try it,” Appell said.

Cardenas said it has been fun to be a part of MMA cheerleading. Her grandparents work at MMA, and it built on her decision of wanting to join the squad. She also cheers for Santa Rosa High School, which Cardenas said she enjoys.

Appell is a first time cheerleader and has focused on basketball for a long time. Cheerleading has been a different experience but one she is also getting to like.

“You have to stand up straight and be loud, always smiling, and in basketball you are mean and aggressive. It is a fun change, it is just a lot different,” she said.

According to the cheerleaders, another good thing about the squad is the opportunity for Harlingen students and others to get to know each other.

Cardenas and Appell, for example, might not have met if it had not been for the new squad.

“I met Amber, who is our awesome captain, and I met a lot of girls from my high school who I would have probably never talked to before. I was happy to be able to make new friends,” Appell said.

Currently, the cheerleaders are not required to wear face masks while participating in activities since MMA is a private school and has a different set of safety guidelines, as opposed to public schools that follow UIL mandates.

However, Luckey has several protocols in place for the cheerleaders’ safety.

The squad often has different members at events, and they are all required to fill out a form before practice to make sure no one has any symptoms or has been in contact with someone with COVID-19.

Their temperatures are also taken beforehand.

“It is a fun way to make new friends if you are not as talkative or social. If you want to get out of your shell, this is a great way to do it because everyone is very welcoming,” Appell said.

ecavazos@valleystar.com