Shannon Milazzo’s world is a cheery one, you could say, but that’s because the former Zachary High cheerleader and Southeastern Louisiana University softball player coaches five cheerleading teams and has done so for the past 14 years.
Zachary High has a cheerleading squad that performs at football and basketball games and pep rallies, a competition team consisting of both ZHS and Northwestern Middle School cheerleaders, as well as three squads at Zachary Career Academy — all under Milazzo’s purview.
The three ZCA teams — Red, Black and Blue — consist of about 70 girls ages 3 to 18 and is for anyone interested in learning tumbling and cheering.
“Zachary Cheer Academy is extra — it teaches, conditions and gives cheerleaders the skills they need so that by the time they get to middle school, they’re ready to compete,” Milazzo said.
Presently, the competition and ZCA teams are preparing for the National High School Cheerleading Competition at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 4-11. On Saturday, the squads competed in a showcase at LSU against 20 other teams from Louisiana.
“We’re trying to get as much time in front of others as possible,” said Milazzo, who also coaches physical education at the middle school.
Times have changed since she was a cheerleader. Today, cheerleading is a very athletic program with a more competitive edge, even though it isn’t considered a sport under the Zachary Athletic Foundation.
“Cheerleaders today are super strong and many have backgrounds in gymnastics. Strength training and conditioning are also part of their daily lives. The commitment is year-round and not for everyone. It’s a lifestyle,” said Milazzo, whose own daughter is on the NMS team. “I think I’m harder on her because I expect more out of her. She works hard and definitely gets a lot of practice in, but because of that, she’s earned her spot.”
Coaching five teams can get busy, but Milazzo has help from Brandon Houck, a stunt coach, and Brandon Whitley, a tumbling coach. Both are former cheerleaders.
Before qualifying for the national contest in Disney, the competition cheer teams worked hard to succeed at the regional and state levels.
“We’re very fortunate to have great competition here in Louisiana before we ever make it to Nationals. We’ve gone up against some of the best. Teams like Dutchtown, Live Oak, Shaw and Brother Martin, they are top 10 teams that push us and drive us to be better,” said Milazzo.
Before each practice, the cheerleaders start with a motivational quote and a prayer, and recently, the girls have fed off the success and excitement centered on the Broncos’ state championship win, which saw the ZHS cheerleaders performing in the Superdome, too.
“They were excited more than they were nervous, I think,” Milazzo said. “We get a lot of support from Coach Brew (David Brewerton) and from Principal Debby Brian at NMS and Joe LeBlanc at ZHS. We’re our own entity, but we got lots of support.”
Zachary Cheer Academy’s competition teams host cheer clinics and the Zachary High squad holds fundraisers. Parents of cheerleaders also work concessions at games, with the money raised going back into the cheer program, which was designed solely by Milazzo.
“That way, I get to do things my way,” she said.