Going out on top

Pennye Garcia, the longest-standing cheerleading coach in Pasco County is retiring — and she’s going out on top.

Sunlake cheer coach Pennye Garcia, left, is retiring at the end of the school year. For the second consecutive year, Garcia was named SAC East Cheer Coach of the Year. Also pictured: Sunlake principal Michael Cloyd and senior Mallory Mock, who won SAC East Cheerleader of the Year.
(Courtesy of Pennye Garcia)

Garcia, who’s coached at Sunlake High in multiple stints (2007-2008, 2013-2017), was recently crowned Sunshine Athletic Conference (SAC) East Cheer Coach of the Year, for the second consecutive year.

It, too, marks the second straight year one of Garcia’s cheerleaders — senior Mallory Mock — was awarded SAC East Cheerleader of the Year. (In 2016, then-senior Amanda Slozer won the honor.)

Moreover, eight of Garcia’s cheerleaders from this season were selected to the SAC East All-Conference teams, the most of any east Pasco school.

One of the premier cheerleading coaches in the area, Garcia maintained a successful track record at Sunlake — four consecutive state appearances — by instilling discipline, consistency and purpose. She also maintained the quality of cheerleaders she would select for her varsity squad.

She, too, is regarded for her diligent preparation.

“I like to do things way ahead of time,” Garcia said, “so that there’s no surprises.”

Other coaching stops during her 15-year career included Academy at the Lakes, Hudson, Mitchell, Land O’ Lakes and Wiregrass Ranch high schools.

Yet, some of her most impressive accomplishments occurred during her tenure at Sunlake.

In the 2013-2014 season, she led the Seahawks to a state title in the Class 1A Medium Division.

Sunlake’s inaugural 2007-2008 season was memorable, too.

Under her tutelage, a group consisting of six freshman and no seniors advanced to states, finishing seventh out of 24 teams.

Under Garcia, Sunlake has been one of the top cheerleading programs in Pasco County. She is the longest-standing cheerleading coach in Pasco County, at 15 years. Garcia previously coached for Academy at the Lakes, Hudson, Mitchell, Land O’ Lakes and Wiregrass Ranch high schools.

“I had a really young team,” Garcia said, of the inaugural team. “When they announced the teams to go to finals…I was totally shocked.”

Besides the competitive cheer success, Garcia will miss Friday night high school football games, along with the countless relationships she cultivates each year.

Over the past few weeks, it’s been a teary-eyed farewell tour, of sorts.

“It’s just very emotional,” Garcia said, “because…I love what I did and I have special (feelings) for my kids.”

Garcia, too, wants to be remembered as a coach who cared for her athletes, wanting to see them improve, both on and off the floor.

“She’s just an amazing coach,” Mock said. “She’s made me the person that I am today. She’s taught me strength, determination, and how to set examples.”

Over the years, Garcia has remained “real close” with many of her former cheerleaders.

Some of them, likewise, have made significant coaching strides.

For instance, Hudson High coach Chelsea Hatcher, the 2016-2017 SAC West Cheer Coach of the Year, is one of Garcia’s former cheerleaders.
So, too, is Sophia Fluellen, the head cheer coach at Pasco-Hernando State College, a program that has won five College Co-Ed Level 6 division titles in the past seven years.

While there’s no indication yet who will replace Garcia, one thing’s for sure: the new coach is taking over a program with a solid foundation.

“I’ve got everything all set,” she said. “We’ve got uniforms; they don’t have to really fundraise too much.”

And although she’s retiring from coaching high school, Garcia’s not completely saying goodbye to the sport.
Garcia will still organize private instructions, and teach lessons at Mary Jo’s Performing Arts, in Tampa.

She also plans to judge at various Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) competitive cheer competitions.

She said she might even publish a book on cheerleading coaching, providing tips on tryouts and formations, especially for new coaches.

“I’ll miss the thought process of putting (cheerleaders) into groups and doing the brain work, because I do that constantly,” Garcia said.

Mock, too, plans to stay involved with the sport, after she graduates in May. One possibility is auditioning to be a Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) staff member. Another is joining University of South Florida’s Coed Cheer Team.

Published March 22, 2017

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