Harrison earns Academic All-State Cheer

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Senior Cheerleader Paige Harrison (left) and LHHS Assistant Principal D’Onda Kristan, who also serves as Cheer Coach. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

Senior Cheerleader Paige Harrison (left) and LHHS Assistant Principal D’Onda Kristan, who also serves as Cheer Coach. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

By SHELLY WILKISON

There’s nothing typical about Liberty Hill High School senior Paige Harrison.

She recently celebrated her 17th birthday and is four months away from graduating near the top of her class after only three years in high school.

It’s her commitment to academic achievement that this week caught the attention of the Texas Girls Coaches Association, which named her to the Cheerleading All-State Academic Team in Class 4A. She is one of only 14 cheerleaders in Texas from a Class 4A high school to be recognized for the honor.

“We are proud of Paige and all that she has accomplished during her time with LHHS,” said Assistant Principal D’Onda Kristan, who also serves as cheer coach. “She is an outstanding student, and has been a real leader for us.”

Harrison is Captain of the varsity cheer squad this school year. Kristan nominated Harrison for the TGCA recognition.

“This is the first year the organization has recognized High School Cheerleading for this honor,” she said. “Paige was deserving of the recognition.”

Kristan said TGCA is the first coaching association she has seen that recognized cheerleading as part of a Spirit Division.

“More are realizing that cheerleaders are athletes, and they need to be recognized as athletes,” she said.

Physical fitness is paramount to performance, and being successful requires daily practice and workouts, as well as major time commitments during fall football season.

“This recognition brings a new level of importance to the sport,” Kristan said.

To be eligible for the TGCA recognition, cheerleaders must be seniors, must have a grade point average of 94 or higher. Candidates are nominated by their cheerleading coach.

This is the first year TGCA has offered honors for its new Spirit Division.

“I’ve been cheering since I was five (years old),” Harrison said. Starting at a young age, her parents enrolled her in summer cheer camps in Round Rock, their hometown before moving to Liberty Hill ISD.

Harrison cheered and competed in Pop Warner youth football and cheer in Round Rock, and discovered an interest that would stay with her throughout her school-age years.

“I’m a very positive person, and I like being ‘spirity’,” she said.

Kristan described Harrison as “extremely confidant in front of a crowd, and she knows how to lead when she’s there.”

Harrison said she decided as a freshman that she wanted to graduate in three years rather than four.

“My main goal was to be in the top 7 percent (of the class), and I wanted to learn without taking blow-off classes.”

During each of her three years in high school, she has taken multiple advanced placement classes, and discovered an interest in math and science. After graduation, she plans to pursue a degree in electrical engineering and is close to making a decision about which college she will attend.

With offers in hand from The University of Texas, Texas Christian University, the Colorado School of Mines, Harrison said she is waiting to hear from her first choice — the US Air Force Academy.

She said cheerleading at the next level could be an option, but her first priority is academics.

Harrison said cheerleading has been a very positive activity for her through school, and she has learned a lot about how to live a healthy and happy life through the experience.

“A key thing is that when you make a mistake, just smile and pick yourself back up,” she said.

While the advice certainly applies to cheerleading, Harrison said she’s incorporated that way of thinking into her life at every turn, realizing even at age 17 that it’s okay to make mistakes. Recovering from them with grace and moving on with a smile is a healthier way to live.

Although she admits she doesn’t remember a time when cheerleading wasn’t an important part of her life, she knows it has helped her build self-confidence. She said she finds herself at ease in most situations.

Harrison said through the years she has become somewhat of an expert on football and many other sports. While she played volleyball and basketball before high school, she said her family’s insistence on watching football at a young age helped her recognize key points in the game when a cheer from the sidelines could engage the crowd and lift the spirit of the players on the field.

While she has many positive memories of cheerleading in Liberty Hill, she quickly noted the 2014 playoff game between the Panthers and Rockport-Fulton in San Antonio as one of the most memorable.

During the final heart-stopping plays of the game, she looked up from the sidelines into the stadium and saw on the faces of the crowd the full-range of emotions. When it appeared the Panthers were in trouble in those final 40 seconds, the crowd went silent and she tried to figure out what to do to rally them back. But in that instant, the action turned in Liberty Hill’s favor and the fans went wild.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that,” she said.

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