By John R. Schirmer
Current and former cheerleaders, cheer parents and friends gathered in the Scrapper Room at Scrapper Stadium Thursday, May 24, at a reception to honor the coaches who guided Nashville cheerleaders from junior high through high school and prepared many for college cheer squads.
Susan Renfrow retired at the end of the academic year after being the cheer coach at Nashville High School for nine years. Stacy Purnell retired after 18 years as cheer coach at Nashville Junior High. Both will continue to teach in the Nashville School District, with Purnell at junior high and Renfrow transferring to elementary.
Purnell said she was hired as social studies and ESL teacher at NJHS 18 years ago. “I was on the beach and had a call from Jan Booker,” then the NJHS principal. “She asked if I’d consider coaching the cheerleaders. I didn’t know if I’d had sunstroke or what had happened,” she recalled.
The NJHS cheerleaders at that time practiced after school in the old gym.
To put things into perspective, current NHS teacher Lacy Gordon Britt was a ninth grader on Purnell’s first NJHS cheer squad.
“That was the start,” Purnell said. “I didn’t plan on doing this for 18 years, but I enjoyed it so much.”
When Purnell’s daughter Nancy Gail graduated, “I thought I’d stop, but I kept on.”
Purnell said she is “so excited about Darah Calico,” her successor. “She’s young and enthusiastic. She’s going to do great.”
Thursday night’s reception “was so wonderful. Jan Rebsamen and other cheer moms did a lot of work. It was very special to see all those girls” who turned out for the event.
Purnell thanked Athletic Director James “Bunch” Nichols and retiring
NJHS Principal Deb Tackett “for all their help. Thanks to our bus driver Tony Horn. I want to thank the cheerleader parents. We’ve been blessed with supportive, wonderful parents.”
There were many highlights for Purnell during her coaching career. Winning the Grand Champion Award tops the list, according to Purnell. “We are the only junior high to win Grand Champion. The Arkansas Cheer Coaches Association did it, then the Arkansas Activities Association made them stop” when it took over cheer competition in the state.
Purnell said her “biggest fear was leaving one of the girls behind [on a bus trip], but I never did”
When school begins in August, Purnell said she will miss coaching the squad, but “I’ll cheer them on from the stands.”
Renfrow joined the ranks of cheer coaches “when Kim Slayton became assistant principal” at NHS. “She wanted me to be EAST facilitator and cheer coach.”
Renfrow had helped former Coach Anita Stuckey and “had two girls who cheered,” daughters Sara and Shelby.
Nashville won three state cheerleading championships during Renfrow’s tenure, including 2013 and back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017. Nashville was the runner-up squad in 2015 and finished third in 2014.
Fourteen of Renfrow’s girls have gone on to cheer in college, including Monique Flores and Breanna Peebles from the class of 2018. Flores will cheer at Henderson State; Peebles at Southern Arkansas.
Renfrow said a highlight of her career was “just the pride in the girls, knowing that when we went somewhere, Nashville would be well represented. Other squads look to Nashville. The program is well respected and has a long line of great coaches like Mrs. Stuckey, Stacy at junior high, Kim. Nashville is one of the best year after year.”
With her coaching career concluded, Renfrow said she will “miss the girls. I’ll miss getting ready for competition,” even though she admits to being nervous on competition day.
Renfrow said she loved “watching them learn new skills. It’s so exciting.”
She plans to go to Nashville games and watch the new squad perform. She also plans to attend competition. “Once they start, I think it will be easier. The transition is terrible,” she said.
Overall, “It’s been fun. The good outweighs the bad by a ton. We had fabulous parents, good kids and an administration that supports us and trusts us to make good decisions,” Renfrow said.