The Presson Family: Team Effort
This family routine is a team effort for the Pressons
Cheerleading is more than a fun extracurricular activity for the Presson family. Jody and Rachel Presson and daughter Taryn live, eat and breathe the sport, with much of their week consumed with practices, games and competitions.
Jody, a civics and economics teacher at Darby Junior High School in Fort Smith, coaches the squad with his wife, Rachel, who volunteers her time and talents. The duo has parlayed their passion for cheerleading into a mission, with the goal of changing students’ lives by teaching them the values of discipline, hard work and what it means to be part of a team.
Weekdays have all three headed to school: Jody at Darby, Taryn off to Cavanaugh Elementary School and Rachel at Grace Academy in Fort Smith, where she teaches part time. Jody’s dad takes Taryn to school, while Jody and Rachel drive together to Darby for morning practice.
Their workday doesn’t end when the school bell rings. There are games and after-school practices. Taryn joins her parents at Darby after school and does her homework while the teams practice in the gym. The 10-year-old also serves as team manager and fills in on the squad, when needed.
Saturdays are generally reserved for family time, with Sunday including fellowship at Harvest Time Church in Fort Smith.
“Our days are busy and some nights are really long. Team members tend to stay after practice for extra help or to work on their routines,” Rachel said. “A lot of nights, we are pulling through the drive-through before heading home to unwind and watch a little television before starting all over again the next day.”
It might be hectic, but it works for the Pressons, who understand the sacrifices they make have a positive effect on the kids they coach, and on the school as a whole.
The undertaking of the junior high squad was no small feat. The two helped resurrect a program that, just four years ago, ended the school year with only three girls. Having met as cheerleaders and stunt partners at Westark Community College (now UAFS), Jody and Rachel had a special place in their hearts for the sport and decided to recruit members and bring back cheerleading at the school.
“The first year, we had folks telling us not to mess with it, and we literally had to go around begging students to try out,” Jody said.
The couple poured countless hours into building the squad. Rachel even left her full-time teaching job at Greenwood to devote more time to the team and her family. The program quickly earned a solid reputation and the number of students trying out has increased each year.
Now in their fourth year, the Pressons have developed an award-winning program that is a great source of pride for the teams, as well as the school. The cheer team captured the 7A State Championship Title in December, along with two regional wins as Overall Grand Champions.
“This year has been a real breakthrough year for us,” Rachel said. Jody added, “This squad has done so much for the school. These kids wear it like a badge of honor.”
The popularity of the program was no doubt thrilling, but it also presented a different kind of challenge.
“We had between 50 and 60 try out for cheer last spring,” Jody said. “Rachel was really bothered by the idea of cutting so many. She came home from tryouts and just cried and said, ‘I want a dance team.’ She is the one who really pushed for it.”
So, for the first time in 12 years, Darby has a dance squad. Twenty-one members comprise the group, which Jody and Rachel also sponsor.
In addition to caring for their family, the squads and their teaching jobs, the Pressons started a business to help other area schools with their cheer and dance teams.
“We started this last summer, working primarily with smaller schools in the region on their squads,” explained Rachel. She creates choreography and helps set structure for the teams. “Getting kids to work hard is a challenge sometimes, but once they get a taste of success, they understand.”
Their efforts are undoubtedly paying off, benefiting students who would otherwise not have a chance to take part in such a program.
“They take girls who have never cheered before and make them into state champions,” said Darby principal Dr. Darren McKinney. “To top that off, they wanted extra responsibility and they restarted the Darby dance team after a 12-year absence. They go above and beyond.”
Despite the long hours and challenges, the Pressons love the life they are leading and the time they get to spend together sharing their passion with local youth.
“We originally did this because we like cheer, but the team has truly had an impact on us, as well,” Jody said. “We do this now because they are our family.”
Taryn also has come to love her “extended family” and enjoys spending time helping her parents with the squads. “They are like sisters to her,” Taryn’s dad said.
The Pressons are proud of the results they are seeing and what they are accomplishing together, as a family.
– By Brittany Ransom
This article appears in the March 2016 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith magazine.