This was a fond farewell.
That’s how Brenda Kelly will remember her final year coaching Cathedral High School cheerleading, a bittersweet year made easier because of what Kelly believes is a bright future.
Kelly, who coached Cathedral cheerleading for 20 seasons – the past 17 as the program’s head coach – announced her retirement shortly after the 2018-2019 season. She will be succeeded by former Cathedral and Indiana University cheerleader Kristen Zupancic.
“It’s more bitter than sweet right now, but I’ll adjust with time,” Kelly said. “I’ll miss the kids. I love being with the kids. It keeps you young. I’m very proud of what we have accomplished and what the program has grown to be. I know I have a great person coming to take over for me.
“I’m confident it will continue to grow and be even better.”
Kelly’s final season was typically successful. The Irish in 2018-2019 placed eighth out of 18 teams at the prestigious Bluegrass Regionals, qualifying for the national competition with an unusually young team that included three freshman and just four seniors.
“When we went to Nationals this year, we only had three young ladies who had ever been there before,” Kelly said. “We were extremely young, and what I’m most proud of is their growth. We didn’t get out of prelims. We had some falls, but they got an opportunity to know what it’s like.
“They’re prepared for Kristen to take them back and take them to another level. If they hadn’t gone [to nationals] this year, going into next year would have been even harder. They know what it’s like and will have a better comfort zone.”
The Irish competitive team in 2018-2019 was led by senior captains Gretchen Tull and McKenna Wylam, as well as seniors Micayla Ditlevson and Maria Ugo. Seniors Lizzie Sanchez and Natalie Perkins cheered for football and basketball in 2018-2019.
Underclassmen Megan Cerar, Milani Kimble and Reese Sanders were also key to the development of the program.
“The growth of this team is what I’m most proud of,” Kelly said. “We started out and couldn’t do a lot of things, but by the end of the season we had really improved our skills. The girls got along great. I’m most proud of our four seniors paying it forward. They used their leadership to pay it forward for the program and for the young girls.”
Kelly said the program without question is well-positioned moving forward.
Zupancic, a varsity cheerleader for Cathedral from 2006-2010, was a member of a Cathedral competitive team during that time that finished seventh nationally. She was a member at Indiana of the Crimson All-Girl Cheerleading team from 2010-2014, and was a four-year member of the Nationals competitive squad.
She was named an All-American Competitive Cheerleader by American Cheerleader Magazine in 2011, and was a four-time winner of the Spirit of Indiana Award given to the IU cheerleader who best personifies what it means to be an exemplary student athlete at IU.
Zupancic coached as an assistant at Cathedral in 2014 and 2015, working as an assistant for two national championship teams at IU while an assistant there from 2016-2018.
“It was very important that it’s in good hands, someone who knew the traditions of Cathedral and someone who had good knowledge of cheerleading,” Kelly said. “Kristen has all of those things. She is well-prepared in terms of skill for taking over the program, and she knows the traditions of the school.
“She’s a great young lady and I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do with the program.”
And as she leaves the program, Kelly said she does so pleased and proud of where the Irish Cheerleading has been and what it will go from here. Just as much, she is proud of the young women who have made the program one of the nation’s best.
“I’m very proud we have been able to establish a competitive side to our program,” Kelly said. “That was one of my major goals. But the girls do so many things at Cathedral; they are great leaders at their school and they are good mentors to young people.
“I’m most proud of the young ladies they’ve become. I really think cheerleading gives them confidence and leadership ability, and becomes part of their life skills.”