A New Coach, A New Team: The Return of Wildcat Cheerleading


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At the beginning of the 2022 school year, cheerleading re-emerged at Ukiah High School. Newly hired cheerleading coach Jamie Planka spoke to UHS News about her motivation and inspiration for bringing new life to the tradition of cheerleading within Wildcat Nation.

Once Planka found out that UHS did not have a cheer team she said, “I was inspired to help create a team here.” Planka heard some athletes were interested and passionate about cheerleading and decided to take action. She was a cheerleader for 12 years and described participating in it through Pop Warner and High School. 

After Planka graduated from college, she followed her interest in coaching: “I coached in Novato, CA for three years prior to moving here.” Now, in her first year at UHS, Planka teaches 9th and 10th-grade English on top of her coaching duties.

Cheer hyping up Wildcat Football players [Picture provided by Jaidyn Sanders]

She described receiving support from UHS principal Gordon Osland and Athletic Director Stephen Summers. “They have been pivotal in making the team happen and making sure that we have proper safety equipment.” Families in the UHS community and of the athletes have also participated in supporting the cheerleading team with fundraising and enthusiasm for the new program. 

Planka would like to expand the cheerleading program at UHS and hopes to establish a JV and a Varsity team eventually. With the basketball season in progress, Planka would like to make “further progression with the team.” working on “harder stunts and having more pyramids.” Planka is also looking forward to new athletes joining the team. She emphasized how proud the squad made her during UHS’s recent football season. 

Junior and Captain of the UHS cheerleading squad Jaidyn Sanders decided to join the UHS cheer team “because I wanted to get back into cheerleading.” Sanders describes taking a break for her sophomore year and “really missed being a part of it.” 

Sanders has been cheering since she was 5, so this will be her 10th year in the sport. Sanders has participated in 4 years of all-star and 6 of sideline cheer. Sander’s two favorite cheer memories were when “I got to compete at the D2 summit and my team got 2nd out of 175 teams in our division and when I found out I made the level 4 team when I didn’t  think I would.”

A cheerleading pyramid during a field show [Photograph from Autumn Walker]

Regarding the team’s improvement throughout the season,  Sanders said,“since our first practice to now, at the very beginning it took is the whole summer to learn a routine and we could barely get a full (about head stunt) steady.” Now, Sanders describes learning whole routines in a week with back flips and stunts. “I am beyond excited about the basketball cheer season, it will be an experience for a lot of us since we’ve never done it before.” 

Another cheer captain at UHS, Autumn Walker, joined the cheer team because “I felt like I could have a second family with this cheer team.” Walker wanted to make new connections with people around school and found girls that are “super nice and super loving and I really appreciate them.” 

Walker entered her 9th year cheering this year, 9 years for Football, and her second season for Basketball. Walker’s first season was done in Fort Bragg and she is super excited to see the difference between the two teams. Walker’s favorite memory from this last season was at the homecoming game. 

Walker described the team’s significant improvement throughout the year saying “the dedication and the time the girls put into every single one of those dances and learn all the cheers really brought our team together.” Walker thinks that the team has worked well together this year. Coming into the basketball season, Walker is excited to have a lot more participation and would like to “open up the cheer program to people who don’t realize how hard cheer actually is.” Walker noted the work and dedication cheerleading takes and how there are more hours at home than just practice. “It’s a new season filled with new girls, who I think have great potential to become an amazing cheer squad.” 

Looking back on this season, Walker praised her teammates for helping her out and being there for her when she needed them. “I am forever grateful for every single one of these girls, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the next few years.”

Izzy Nickerson
Izzy Nickerson
Izabella Nickerson is an editor and chief for the UHS newspaper and a Junior at Ukiah High School. Izabella enjoys playing sports like tennis and volleyball, baking/cooking, and being outdoors. Izabella is creative and hardworking doing her part to make the UHS newspaper informative and entertaining. Izabella has been a part of the UHS news team for 3 years. She enjoys writing about the sports that students participate in at Ukiah High School as well as articles addressing women's rights and more. She would like to continue Journalism and make a career out of it. Becoming a sports journalist or a sports broadcaster.

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