The Honorary Coach Cheerleading program was created by English teacher and former cheer coach, Mallory Gaunce during her 2015-2016 year of coaching.
Gaunce’s goal was to give each of the senior cheerleaders a chance to honor a teacher who impacted their life in or outside of school.
At the start of the season, each senior cheerleader chooses a teacher. Throughout the season, they each have a week to give their teacher the award of honorary coach. The scheduling is mapped out so that seniors give out an award every football game day, and the last award will fall on the day of the last game. They surprise their teacher with an honorary coach cheer shirt, and a picture of them posted on the cheer Instagram (@sme_cheer) with a paragraph explaining why they chose that teacher.
Gaunce got the inspiration to begin the tradition after attending a high school girls basketball game in Leavenworth, KS. At the game, each senior player called a teacher up to the court to be honored for their impact. Because cheer doesn’t have their own specific games, Gaunce decided they would deliver the award on their own time.
Each year, a cheerleader is chosen to make a design that will be displayed on the shirts — this year senior Chloe Sowden designed the lancer blue shirts with white text that reads “2019-2020 SME Cheer Honorary Coach.”
“The girls by the time they get to their senior year were super excited to pick their teacher,” Gaunce said. “It’s something they would look forward to.”
Savannah Bahr & Chemistry teacher Steven Appier
Senior Savannah Bahr’s choice ended up being easy — but it took an intervention to make it clear. It wasn’t always so obvious though, Chemistry teacher Steven Appier was the last teacher she would’ve asked a couple of years ago.
When Bahr was a sophomore, she could’ve sworn she was Appier’s least favorite student. Last year as a junior, one of Bahr’s friends, senior Ava Stechschulte, who was taking AP Chemistry with Appier at the time, dragged Bahr up to Appier’s room for a bit of an intervention.
After hearing from Stechschulte, Appier felt the need to express to Bahr that he never hated her — he proclaimed that he always liked Bahr as a student and person.
“[The talk] was so awkward,” Bahr said. “But after that, I would always just go to Appier’s room after [school] and we’d just chat — we did that all the time.”
Their daily chats always started out discussing chemistry, and slowly developed to extensive rants about what was going well, or not so well, in their lives. They’d talk about Bahr’s homecoming date, the A she got on her English test, how his day of teaching was going, etcetera.
“She’s a very interesting character, and so we have quite a bit of banter back and forth between the two of us,” Appier said. “I love the kid, though.”
When Bahr gifted Appier with the award, he was astonished. He knew they had a strong relationship, but was surprised that out of the 109 teachers and faculty she could’ve chosen, he was her first pick.
Appier accepted the shirt with open arms, honored to have been chosen.
The shirt acted as a tie of their friendship — it reassured their strong student-teacher relationship. Since then, the friendship between Bahr and Appier has only flourished.
“It really makes you feel good,” Appier said. “That it’s not for the glory, it’s not for the money, it’s for the kids. Really, it’s inspirational, it’s an honor.”
Ellie Phillips & Marketing teacher Mercedes Rasmussen
Since her junior year marketing class, she and Rasmussen have been building their relationship, planning for the year, going over role plays, and just having conversations about Phillips’ life. Following her sister Hannah’s lead, Phillips has taken Rasmussen’s classes both junior and senior year.
“Hannah spent a lot of time with me as well,” Rasmussen said. “She would bring Ellie in here, and I got to know Ellie before she was in my class.”
Rasmussen was eager to get close with Phillips, having gotten to know her sister so well in the past few years.
Phillips has gone to all of the DECA trips possible, competed in every DECA competition last year and has begun judging in competitions this year.
After Rasmussen urged Phillips to run for DECA state officer this year, their relationship only grew stronger.
“I just thought it was going to be a resume builder, but I ended up really enjoying it and meeting a lot of new people,” Phillips said. “I was just really thankful to Mercedes for [introducing me to] that.”
Grateful for all the opportunities Rasmussen has helped her find, Phillips decided she was the perfect fit for the award.
For Rasmussen, the shirt is a symbol of the mother-like relationship she formed with Phillips.
“I know that it’s personal and I’ve developed a relationship with them where they feel comfortable being themselves in my classroom,” Rasmussen said. “We get to know each other on a different level where they know they can come to me — this is a safe room for them.”
Phillips and Rasmussen plan to continue their DECA journey through this year, building their relationship through all of the planning, competing and traveling that comes.