For Kayla: Mount Vernon cheer team competes at national championship in Florida
The Mount Vernon Knights were excited to get their turn Saturday on the nationals’ competition floor for the first time in their program’s history.
Although they did not win, the team said this was monumental for them because their former captain was 15-year-old Kayla Green, who was fatally stabbed hours after a motorcade through the city celebrated the high school’s Class AA state championship.
The Knights have been honoring Green’s memory by putting her photo on their luggage, necklaces and placing a pink pompom beside them on the mat as they compete.
"She was the fuel that got us here. She was the fuel to keep us going and persevering through heartache, so we will always honor her in everything we do,” said head cheerleading coach Mekiyah Knox.
News 12’s Veronica Jean Seltzer spoke to Green’s father, who said the team has impressed him.
“They’re some hard workers, you have to give it up to them. They're working hard, especially after what happened to Kayla," Marlan Green said. "They're doing this for her, making sure her name lives on."
Coaching Mount Vernon cheer is a 24/7 job, but it is not all Knox does -- She is also a mother, an elementary school teacher and just completed her master's degree in physical education.
Head junior varsity Coach Kirk James is a trauma-informed specialist for Mount Vernon. He also works for the company considered the global cheer authority and will get his master's degree for school counseling.
Both Knox and James are also Mount Vernon cheer alumni.
"Being at Disney seeing that Mount Vernon Knights are going to be here performing. You can now Google us. That's so surreal to me," James said.
She added that her 2011 Knights did not even dream of making it to nationals because they did not know about it. As a coach, that changed.
"Being a professional, seeing all these teams going, I said why not bring that to Mount Vernon?" Knox said.
After three years of dreaming and hard work, they accomplished competing at nationals. But for them, it's not just about winning.
"We can do all this work at Disney going to nationals, but what's going to happen after you graduate? And that's what we're trying to do. Expose them to something more," James said.
Both Knox and James had coaches who encouraged them to strive for more to attend historically Black colleges and universities. Both are also sending many of their cheerleaders as well on scholarships.
"So many times I hear from teachers, they go the extra mile in school because they know this is what I have to be to be on this team," Knox said.
It's a lot of work and responsibility, but Knox and James said they are just getting started.
"You know it's like we made it, so we can do this again and we will do it again," Knox said.
Three other assistant coaches who went on the trip to Florida are also all alumni.
The head coaches said this trip is growing their program -- they are already receiving messages from athletes across the city asking when the next try outs will take place.