By Dalton LaFerney
Stacey Hall has taught and coached for nearly 30 years, the last decade of which as White Oak ISD’s head cheer coach. She’s planned dozens of pep rallies and shuttled glitter-faced cheerleaders to football fields and gyms across East Texas after working full days as a middle school science teacher. At twice-a-week practices and August camps, Hall has watched girls evolve into proud young women.
But all that will come to an end soon. She has not announced her retirement with the school district, but Hall knows it’s not far off. There will come a time when she is no longer the “Coach Hall” White Oak’s cheerleaders answer to.
On a recent Monday practice, Stacey looked on as her oldest daughter, Alexa Hall, demanded her group of middle school cheer leaders do push ups in the same space where Alexa used to practice at Stacey’s command. It was only minutes in, but a couple of the girls did not have closed fists during a routine — an oversight that is easily noticed by Alexa, who started cheering in the 3rd grade until her senior year.
This summer White Oak ISD hired the younger Hall to teach 5th grade science and coach the 7th and 8th grade cheer squad.
“Alexa is a tough cookie and wants her girls to be the best they can be,” the elder Coach Hall said. “The girls will need to be willing to take some heat if they come to practice not prepared.”
It isn’t the first time they join each other on the same team. In 2012, Stacey began coaching the varsity cheer squad just as Alexa was finishing high school before graduating from White Oak in 2013.
After college and four years at Kilgore ISD, where she taught 2nd grade and most recently 8th grade science, Alexa decided she needed a change. And so did her mother.
For the past two years, Stacey coached both the varsity and middle school teams. She had support from longtime assistant varsity coach Dana Mizell, but coaching both teams meant twice the workload for everybody.
“Having two cheer squads, as rewarding as it is, has taken a toll on me,” Stacey said. “Having Alexa has been a breath of fresh air already.”
Though at opposite ends of their careers, Stacey and Alexa could not be more similar. Dressing them in the same outfit and standing them side-by-side would not do much more to liken them. The two science teachers already have near-identical country twangs, commanding presences, and an unrelenting sense for how things should run.
During her job hunt, Alexa first interviewed at Pine Tree ISD, but the opportunity did not pan out. Seemingly out of nowhere, White Oak school leaders wanted to interview her.
Alexa said she was a little hesitant to take the coaching job at first, because she and her mother bump heads at times, but she recognizes the sweetness of this opportunity.
“I love my mother, but we fight like sisters,” Alexa said. “I’m just like her. I never thought I would be doing this, but we work well together. We’re both tough, and we both like things to look a certain way. It’s cool I get to coach with my mom.”
Alexa took the job the day she got the call.
Stacey’s varsity squad this season comes with 17 cheerleaders, a mascot and six flag runners. Alexa’s middle school team is made up of 12 cheerleaders. The coaches recently shepherded their teams through cheer camp, which consisted of three days of three-hour practices jammed with new routines, chants and spirit dances.
Now, they’re looking at the year ahead of them, which will be filled with late nights, weekly practices, roadtrips and mentoring students who are still learning how to be on time and bring the right attitude. Practices are twice a week for the varsity, once a week for middle school. They run about an hour and 45 minutes, Alexa said.
Like all student athletes, cheerleaders are expected to do more than give their best on the field or on the court. All coaches look out for students’ behavior and how they’re representing the team and the school. But when it comes to cheerleading, which takes center stage in a variety of school events, those expectations are turned up a few notches, Alexa said.
“Everyone is waiting on you to mess up,” she said.
Because she’ll be teaching all day at the intermediate school, Alexa won’t be around the middle school to keep track of her team’s off-court progress, which means Stacey will be her eyes and ears at the middle school.
“And that’s even scarier,” Alexa said, recounting what she told her team.
Both coaches said this sport teaches young people how to be organized, tough and respectful. A few accidental kicks to the head while building a tower will do that to a kid. It teaches teamwork but it also teaches independence. There are moments of failure before hometown audiences of hundreds on Friday nights, and moments of triumph in front of near-empty stands at Thursday-night middle school games. Through it all, persistence — and a coach with a sharp eye.
“It teaches you to get out of your comfort zone,” Alexa said. “If you do enough over and over again, you’re gonna get it.”
If these truly are the waning years of Stacey’s career, they mark a period of celebration. She raised and graduated her three daughters at White Oak as a single mother and full-time coach and full-time teacher. She guided hundreds of other peoples’ children through science labs, track meets and stunts.
And now Alexa, one of those girls who grew to be a proud woman, is coaching right there with her.
“Not many people get to do this,” Alexa said.
By Dalton LaFerney