In a lifetime of wandering through this old world, you’ll probably get to the end and count your closest friends on one hand. Such is the case with Morgan County Middle School cheer coaches, Emily Barrett and Hillary McKenzie Reaves. The two have been friends since they were in diapers growing up near each other’s families. Reaves commented, “I graduated a year ahead of Emily and we grew up together. Our moms were both moms of multiples so they have a lot in common.” Barrett has a twin brother, Andrew, and Reaves is a triplet along with her sister Hannah McKenzie Bennett and brother Mack McKenzie.
The two second-year teachers entered into their first season of coaching together this fall taking on the role of coaching the Spirit Squad and Competition Squad. Barrett said, “We were both cheerleaders together in middle and high school at Morgan County. Hillary was in competition and I was in spirit so we’ve got some experience in both areas.” Barrett and Reaves were coached by Heather Jenkins and Sisters Brittany Malcom Duvall and Amanda Malcom Pickles (both Morgan County graduates).
Coach Emily attended Anderson University in South Carolina and majored in Elementary Education. She teaches at Morgan County Elementary School under Principal Lara Still while Coach Hillary attended Valdosta State and Georgia Gwinnett College to attain a degree in special education. She teaches first grade at Morgan County Primary School where Lisa Daniels is her principal. Both were highly complementary of their respective ‘bosses’. Their statements about each were similar with Barrett noting, “She’s been very supportive and encouraging of our coaching at the Middle School. Hillary already knew the principal (Hillary Meeler at MS). She sits in front of the cheerleaders, gives compliments and encourages us.” Reaves echoed that sentiment about her principal, “She’s been fine with everything and is very encouraging about us being involved with the community and coaching.”
The young duo has done an outstanding job with the two groups of cheerleaders finishing second in three of their four meets while winning their meet at the Loganville High School Fear to Cheer Competition. It hasn’t been easy as they will tell you. Reaves, who heads up the competition team, talked about the sacrifice it takes with these words, “We had conditioning two times per week during the summer and attended choreography camp for three days in June at the high school to learn our routine. Since then (July) we have been practicing Monday through Thursday to perfect the routine they learned this summer.” Barrett gave details of the Spirit Team’s dedication saying, “They came this summer for three days of camp where we learned and rehearsed the material for the season. They practiced throughout the football season and cheer for the Middle School football team. We make banners and boost school spirit throughout the school and look forward to cheering our undefeated team to the championship this Thursday at 5:00.”
Both coaches have returned to their alma mater and get a lot of help and support from former teachers Doug Connelly (system-wide athletic director) and Milfred Franklin (MCMS athletic director). They both agreed that, “Coach Connelly was one of the teachers who taught us. We put our name out there with Coach Denise Frost (varsity coach) that we wanted to help coach some. He came and asked if we’d be interested in coaching the middle school cheer and we agreed. Coach Franklin also taught us in P.E. and knew us as students. They have helped us a lot. If we have questions, they will help us get the answers and make sure we have what we need. They’ve been supportive and encouraging to us as new coaches. We’re still learning from them. It’s kind of cool.”
Members of the squad this season are as follows:
Carolyn Strickland, Keuna Gaither, Blythe Harris, Anna Arthur, Avery Kinnett, Victoria Sims, Annabel Moon, Andrea Bailey, Hannah Horowitz, Londyn Friddell, Mary Cate Strickland, Emerson Clark, and Lexi Lyles.
Carolyn Strickland, Keuna Gaither, Blythe Harris, Christine Watkins, Teeonna Wade, Caroline Farmer, Avery Kinnett, Annabel Moon, Lady Kuperburg, Claire Henry, Marlin Bennett, Ava Raburn, Claire Henry, Hayven Tanner, Andrea Bailey, Hannah Horowitz, Londyn Friddell, Mary Cate Strickland, Emerson Clark, and Alexis Garner.
Barrett was quick to say, “I’m proud of the girls for working so hard for us in our first year. We had high expectations and a successful season. I want to thank the team for that.”
The coaches pointed out that three of the girls have become the leaders of the team without being named as captains or asked to step up. They were Keuna Gaither, Kyla Cook, and Carolyn Strickland.
The conversation ended with thanks and thoughts. “The parents did a lot of things like getting the girls to practice and making up goodie bags for our meets. The high school coaches were so supportive and gave us guidance and encouragement as new coaches. The team listened to us and helped us learn things we might not have thought about. The hard work they put in showed by placing in all of our competitions and the overall success.”
Asked if they were continuing their coaching next year, they said, “We want to. We’re just figuring it out as we go along together. It takes a lot of time and we’ve learned a lot this first year. We do a lot of similar things our former coaches taught us and we used what we knew from them to coach our girls.”
It seems this dynamic duo will make a big impact on the young girls they are mentoring. Reaves summed things up, “It’s nice to be back home where I went to school. We’re just good friends working together and having fun.”