Student spotlight: Deaf JV cheerleader at Woodrow uses counting, memory during routines

Alessa Johnson, (front row, third from left) cheers at a Woodrow football game. Photo Credit: Russ Kelemen
Alessa Johnson, (front row, third from left) cheers at a Woodrow football game. Photo Credit: Russ Kelemen

Woodrow Wilson’s district winning football team has some great athletes, but at Woodrow, the athleticism does not stop at the sidelines. In the busy space between the football players and the spectators, the cheerleaders show an athletic prowess, commitment, and synchronization that any coach would be fortunate to have. These ladies are full of unique and committed athletes who represent the school well.

Alessa Johnson is one such athlete. She is a competitive cheerleader at Woodrow Wilson who faces more challenges than the average teenage girl, but shines and perseveres nonetheless. One of Woodrow’s many deaf students (deaf students in DISD are funneled into Woodrow), Johnson is also a member of the Junior Varsity cheer team and is participating in the competitive cheer season. She does so along with some great assistance from Tamara Hughes, one of Woodrow’s dedicated deaf education interpreters and a former cheerleader herself.

Johnson went to Sudie Williams Elementary and J.L. Middle School, where she was cheer captain, and now is a successful freshman at Woodrow. She arrives at school at 6:15 a.m. every morning to work on the competitive cheer routine, and then follows that practice with her regular cheer practice to prepare for athletic events. The competitive cheer competition takes place on Dec. 7, and it has required Saturday practices as well. Johnson, her teammates, coaches, and interpreter work together to make the most of the competitive cheer season.

As a flyer, Johnson is the one who is propelled into the air during routines, and while she is somewhat scared inside, she says she is confident in her team mates and always trusts them to catch her as she flies through the air. As a deaf cheerleader, Johnson cannot depend on musical cues like the others to know where she should be and what she should be doing in a cheer. She has to count in her head and use only her memory to know the routine, which is quite a feat.

These small challenges leave Johnson undaunted, as she says that she doesn’t feel any disadvantage when cheering. She has been cheering since she was five, and has enjoyed learning to tumble and dance with her peers at Woodrow. Despite her hearing, she says she has never let her disability affect who she is and what she wants to be.

The junior varsity cheer coach, Cori Wilson, who is also a dedicated chemistry teacher, sings Johnson’s praises. “Her personality and spirit radiate into the crowd, and she lights up the audience with her cheering,” she says.

Johnson, whose favorite subject is math with Brady Minor, says she would like to cheer in college in a few years. One day she would like to be a cheer coach and interpreter who helps deaf students in their activities as well.

*Editor’s note: This article was written by Woodrow Wilson teacher Will Maddox. He will be writing stories about Woodrow students, staff, programs and other news. His articles will be posted to the website every two weeks.


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