King’s Queens show why cheerleading goes way beyond sports

RICHMOND, Va. — Loretta Watson understands the value of a good coach. A dedicated friend. And a trusted mentor. Every year for the past 20 years, she’s opened up her heart to a new group of young ladies, hooking them into the sisterhood of her cheerleading program.

“I grew up in Creighton from birth to my senior year of college. I can recall some of my mentors who took time with me and other girls, who made sure that we were occupied doing something positive,” Watson said.

Watson has coached a generation of girls in Richmond Public Schools, first at East End Middle School (later Onslow Minnis) and now at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

Her approach is natural. It’s loving. And it works.

Coach Loretta Watson sees her cheer program as a way to make a lasting impact beyond middle school. (PHOTO: Rebecca D'Angelo)

Coach Loretta Watson sees her cheer program as a way to make a lasting impact beyond middle school. (PHOTO: Rebecca D’Angelo)

Girls return to visit Watson and her crew even after they’ve graduated.

“Cheer season does not end for us,” Watson explained of the connection that goes beyond athletics and well past the end of the school day for “King’s Queens.”

“They have a sisterhood that is just amazing,” Watson smiled. “They look out for each other, they love each other.”

Participants in Watson’s cheering program said that she had a knack for keeping the girls busy and focused. As a result, the squad from MLK Middle School has brought home 1st place honors in two of the first three years of the Richmond Public Schools Middle School Cheer competition.

And earlier this year the squad performed as special guests at the “Stomp and Shake” cheer competition on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Students from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School’s cheer program perform at Short Pump Town Center. (PHOTO: Rebecca D'Angelo)

Students from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School’s cheer program perform at Short Pump Town Center. (PHOTO: Rebecca D’Angelo)

The squad also traveled to the CIAA cheer expo, giving them the opportunity to see college cheerleaders in action.

Watson said that in the future she would work to put together a college tour as a way to introduce the students to college life through cheerleading. She said that she would start with college cheer squads in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Along the way her goal would be to visit the birthplace of Martin Luther King and walk the college campuses as a way to meet other college cheerleaders and let them see what it means to represent a program on another level beyond middle school.

“I want them to look back and say that I had the time of my life,” Watson said, “that I learned how to be a team player, I learned that there is a life out there, that I can make something of my myself. I want them to go on to high school and remember what I instilled in them.”

This story was written by John Murden. Photos by Rebecca D’Angelo. It was originally published in Richmond GRID magazine and republished here with permission. Launched in July of 2009, Greater Richmond Grid has profiled living, working and playing in the region.

With an eye on innovation, inspiration and individuals’ accomplishments in Richmond’s business, retail, arts and entertainment, the magazine and its website RichmondGrid.com strive to profile the area’s creative vibrancy and authentic character.