Taking the lady eagles to new heights


Sydnie Barrett

During the homecoming pep rally the spirit program came together to perform to a mashup of songs on Marx Field. The spirit program is made up of the cheerleaders and WHHS’s dance team: The Golden Girls.

The WHHS cheer team has been on the rise for many years with several talented athletes coming through the program. This year the team has fallen under new leadership. 

Last spring the eight SENIOR cheerleaders graduated, and with no underclassmen on varsity last year, the team was left to a completely new varsity squad. 

Along with the class of ‘21 went head coach Elyse Hill. Hill was able to send several cheerleaders onto the collegiate level during her tenure. 

Tre’Sha Young, ‘20, Adonya Streat, ‘21, and Kadence Ewing, ‘21,  all went on to cheer for Tennessee State University in Nashville, and Young has come back as the freshmen cheer coach this year. 

After the class of ‘21 graduated, the team was left to the five SENIORS: Co-Captains Sade Demu and Melanie Mitchell, Ava Corocran, Jaia Mitchell, and Zoe Cummings.  

The five SENIORS have very different cheer backgrounds. Melanie Mitchell began her sophomore year, while Demu started as a freshman. Jaia Mitchell started cheer in 8th grade while Cummings and Corcoran are first time WHHS cheerleaders. However, Corcoran has extensive experience in competitive cheer. 

“We definitely had some big shoes to fill, but I’m really so proud of us,” Melanie Mitchell said. “We are so close, all of us, and we have truly just done such a great job of setting a new precedent for varsity.”

In addition to the new SENIORS, Landon Zellars became head coach for the Lady Eagles in the Spring of 2021. 

“It’s been an amazing transition, the kids, the parents, the students have been very open to change and very optimistic as well,” Zellars said. “It’s been great.” 

Melanie Mitchell and Demu credit their success as captains to their ability to listen to their teammates and set a good example. 

“Sade and Melanie are amazing, I wouldn’t have had it any other way, than to have them leading this new program,” Zellars said. “They know what it’s been like to be overshadowed and they know how to make everyone feel welcomed.”

With Demu and Mitchell as captains the varsity cheer team is prioritizing sisterhood this season, Demu and Mitchell want to make everyone feel welcomed and supported as captains. 

“Before I was a cheerleader I thought the sisterhood thing was just a line that they told you, but it’s real,” Cummings said. 

Zellars has an extensive background in cheerleading. He coached highschool cheer for 10 years, worked with Universal Cheer Association as a staffer, has experience with Allstar cheerleading, was an assistant coach at Kentucky State University for 2 years, and cheered in high school and college. 

“[My experience] allows me to see a vision and execute it,” Zellars said. “I saw what kind of program Walnut was and where I wanted to take them this year and we’ve been doing a pretty good job.”

Zellars comes to WHHS from Withrow High School, where he was an assistant cheer coach. On Aug. 27, the Eagles and Tigers faced off in their annual rivalry game, which put Zellars in an interesting position as a coach. 

The varsity cheer team debuted the new cheer program on Aug. 20 as the Eagles took on the Aiken Falcons. The team was able to interact with the student section, the Nuthouse, for the first time since October of 2019. (Sydnie Barrett)

“I always just try to make it the best atmosphere for the kids I’m currently coaching, while also letting the kids that I previously coached know that it’s always all out of love,” Zellars said. “My first mindset is about my current kids and making sure they’re all comfortable and secure in what they’re doing and who they are.”

Zellars says that having a brand new roster for varsity cheer has been a blessing. He acknowledges the struggle he would have had if some of the team was already used to certain expectations on varsity, but with everyone being new they are learning from each other.

“My SENIORS were previous to Walnut cheer and they’ve been very helpful in making things happen and making me feel welcomed and wanted as a coach,” Zellars said. 

The entire program participated in a cheer camp over the summer at Miami University in Oxford, OH. Despite this being their first time competing at MU, the program was very successful.

Kamani Killings, ‘23, received a Pin It Forward award for her sportsmanship during the camp, and the team also brought home the top Banana award and the leadership plaque, along with nine other awards for their performance. 

Each year at UCA camps individual cheerleaders are able to compete to be recognized as All American cheerleaders, which invites them to perform across the country. This year Madison Reece, ‘25, and Niomi Abel, ‘25, Aubrey Ottaway ‘24, Mitchell and Demu all received the award. 

Zellars approaches coaching as if he’s raising his athletes. “I like to be the best, I like to look the best and I like to carry ourselves as the best,” Zellars said.

As a brand new face in WHHS cheer, Zellars has goals and visions for the future that these athletes haven’t seen before.

His main aspiration for the program is to “grow, it’s not always about being the best or on top, but it’s about growth, as long as I see growth then I’m happy,” Zellars said.

The team feels Zellars has done a good job of stepping up into his new role as head coach. 

“He’s done it, we went to an amazing camp, he’s been super supportive, he’s been kind, but he works us hard,” Cummings said. 

The team and Zellars have connected over the past several months, and are sure to impress for the remainder of football season as well as upcoming basketball season. 

Zellars has connected with the team in his short time here, and is impacted by his athletes everyday.

“I love them, they make my bad days good and make me love coaching again,” Zellars said.