to the wonderful girls who are now A Legacy
I wrote this Wednesday, and I have kept coming back to it and editing it. I want so much for my words to be the right words. I think I've finally gotten there.
There has been much on my mind since I got the call Sunday night letting me know that the girls’ PE and cheerleading coach, Cookie Valentine, had died unexpectedly. I know that for so many around me that loss is far greater than it could ever be for me. More than anything else, my thoughts have been with the cheerleaders. I can’t even imagine how difficult this is for all of those girls who spent so much time learning from her. This post is for them.
A great many of you girls have been through my classroom; a great many of you have not. But I know the kind of heart each of you has, the kind of heart Mrs. Cookie worked so hard to nurture in each of you. I know that each of you has lost someone who was so much more than a cheerleading coach to you. And I know it’s heartbreaking. But I also know that each one of you is a trooper. I know she taught you to work hard and to work together. I know she taught you to put your best forward and to not give up when things were difficult. She taught you those things because she loved each and every one of you. That’s just how she was.
One of the things I admired most about Mrs. Cookie was that she never saw herself as just a cheer coach. It was never just about teaching lifts and throws and dance routines for her. She saw all of those things as ways to teach you girls how to be better, how to grow, how to improve as humans not just cheerleaders. I remember a conversation we had a few years ago about the squad that year. We were talking because a good number of the girls in the squad were 5th and 6th graders, and she wanted to see how they were with each other in my class. We talked because she was so concerned about the motivation and attitude of some of the girls that year. She was concerned that some of the girls only wanted to be on the squad for the prestige, and it was causing some dissent and unnecessary drama. And the thing that spoke to me about her heart was this: she didn’t care if losing some of the girls meant they lost talent; she cared that dissent and drama was keeping her squad from being a team that cared about each other no matter what and put others ahead of themselves. The thing that made Mrs. Cookie so much more than just a cheer coach was that she wanted so much more than a squad that could win—she wanted a squad that learned the value of true teamwork, a squad of girls that encouraged each other, a squad that truly wanted to lift each other up and help each other succeed more than they wanted to win competitions. And it speaks so highly of her and of each of you girls that in seeking those things, she gained groups of girls who love each other, who respect and love her, and squads that won competitions.
Girls, in your future as cheerleaders and humans, you’re going to have teachers, coaches, and bosses who see winning as more important than anything else. You’ll be under the leadership of people who cause dissent in order to get “winners.” And in the short term, it’s tempting to buy into that. These people have a lot of checks in the win column. But when it comes down to it, they rarely have loyalty, respect, or true influence. When you’re in those situations, I want you to remember Mrs. Cookie. I want you to realize that you are part of her legacy. I want you to remember her heart for you. And I want you to stick to the path she nurtured. You and great many other people are feeling Mrs. Cookie’s loss not because she had a lot of checks in the win column, but because she cared about the kind of influence she had in your lives. She cared about who you were becoming through cheer, not just about whether you could cheer well or win. And that is such a great legacy in you. Don’t forget it.
Girls, I know it’s going to be so very difficult for you all for a little while now, especially those of you who have to go into that gym again, and she won’t be there; those who will have to get used to a new cheer coach (be kind—she’ll have big shoes to fill). If I could give each of you a hug, I would. I’m sure you need one. But know this: Mrs. Cookie always spoke with pride of her girls. She loved you all. She was so proud to see you grow and become better people, even more than she was proud of your hard work at cheer practice. She was so happy with your successes and accomplishments. She was a blessing to each of you, I know, and this loss is so difficult. I’m so sorry that you have to walk this road right now. But in your mourning, remember that she loved each of you. Remember the joyful moments and not just your sorrow. The difficulty will ease over time. You have each been blessed, and Mrs. Cookie would be so proud if you now take that blessing and spread it to others. She nurtured each of you—nurture each other. Be there for each other, and her memory and legacy will live on.