BRADEN RIVER — Come this fall, Braden River High English teacher Dana Licata will be a permanent fixture in the Pirates’ football stadium.
Licata has been with the school since it first opened four years ago. Now she’s ready to tackle a new position with the hopes of forever changing the meaning of school spirit. Braden River recently appointed Licata as its new varsity cheerleading coach, following the resignation of former coach Stacey Horton.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Licata said. “It was actually the perfect time. I had been helping Stacey with junior varsity, and then she resigned. So it was the perfect opportunity for me to move in and kind of take over.”
A former all-star cheerleader, Licata began cheering when she was 9 years old. She continued to cheer throughout high school while also being a part of her school’s competitive dance team. Licata chose to forgo cheering and dancing at the collegiate level and instead focused on coaching gymnastics and earning her teaching degree.
After graduating from the University of South Florida, Licata began teaching at Wesley Chapel High, where she spent two years coaching the varsity cheerleading squad. Licata moved to Bradenton five years ago, eagerly anticipating the day when she would be able to coach again.
“Coming into it, we weren’t really sure what to expect, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Licata said. “Already, we’ve had a lot of support and the girls seem really excited and happy.”
Alongside Licata this year will be Nolan Middle School teacher Ashley Choate, who recently was selected to coach Braden River’s junior varsity squad. Prior to taking over at Braden River, Choate spent three years coaching at Manatee High.
A former all-star cheerleader, Choate began cheering when she was 5 years old. She cheered for four years at Manatee and then a year at the community college level before turning her attention toward coaching.
Braden River held its cheerleading tryouts in early April. With only four girls returning from last year’s squad, both Licata and Choate weren’t quite sure what to expect. Twenty-three girls and a mascot will make up next year’s varsity squad with 16 constituting the junior varsity squad.
In preparation for next year, both the varsity and junior varsity cheerleading squads have set a series of goals they hope to achieve as a squad. With next year’s squad double the size of last year’s squad, the two new coaches are eager to begin building a tradition of competitive cheerleading at Braden River.
“We’re trying to build a program and not just a squad,” Choate said. “Both squads are working together to overcome the reputation that has been built over the last couple years that Braden River High School cheerleading is not competitive.
“We are taking a pretty new program and trying to get it to the level of the other high schools in the area, and that is going to be tough,” she added. “But we have some very talented girls that came out this year, and we are very capable of meeting that goal.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].