‘The moment we stop learning, we stop growing’

Cheerleading shapes way of life for Rockland native Andrew Weiss

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 5:15am

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Andrew Weiss, a 2008 Rockland District High School graduate, knew since his early high school days he would be a coach following his playing days as coaching has been a passion for the man who got his start in high school as a coach for the Rockland Tiger Cubs pee-wee football team and instructor for the annual Rockland pee-wee football camp.

What he did not know in his early high school days was that he would become a cheerleading coach, not to mention a collegiate cheerleading coach for one of the most prolific collegiate athletic departments. 

Weiss was first formally introduced to cheerleading at a University of Notre Dame, coincidentally his current employer, summer football camp mid-way through high school when he was awestruck at a fellow camper’s successful completion of a standing tuck (in simpler terms, a standing backflip). Later, during his junior football season, he noticed several female cheerleaders performing standing tucks and became determined to master the art of standing tucks. 

“It was the perfect opportunity to flirt with the beautiful girls on the team and learn a skill that I thought was pretty cool,” he recalled. “Being a pretty confident, dare I say, cocky young man, my goal was to do a standing backflip after scoring a touchdown, but God had other plans.”

After approaching a few cheerleaders he knew courtesy of being track-and-field teammates, the cheerleaders agreed to help Weiss learn to tumble and complete a standing tuck on the condition he would join the competitive cheerleading team that winter. Weiss agreed and believed the girls would forget about the condition by the time winter sports rolled around. 

He learned how to complete a standing tuck and tumble, but never did use his standing tuck skills as touchdown celebrations, like he originally planned. When the season concluded, he says he distinctly remembers cleaning out his locker and being met by his cheerleading teachers almost immediately upon exiting the locker room. 

“They hadn’t forgotten [about the condition and deal],” he recalled. “Taken aback, and knowing that I couldn’t back down now, I recruited a couple other football players and we went to tryouts that week. The rest is history.”

The team won the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship and competed for a state championship that season. 

During his senior year of high school, he was invited to apply to be a coach for the National Cheerleaders Association. The decision to become a NCA coach was an easy one thanks to his passion for coaching. After sending in his NCA application, tryout video and being selected, he traveled across New England during the summer ahead of college to be an instructor at camps and clinics. 

As a student at Indiana’s Holy Cross College, he competed for ICE, an all-star cheerleading team in Indiana, and claimed a bronze globe at the 2009 United States All Star Federation (USASF) Cheerleading World Championships. 

He was later asked by ICE’s owner, Darlene Fanning, to join the ICE staff, where he spent seven years and won several National Championships. Under Fanning, a World Championship winning coach, Weiss said he grew into an elite tumbling instructor and championship caliber coach. 

His Notre Dame biography notes while a tumbling instructor and cheerleading consultant for ICE he “assisted countless individuals and high school programs in Northern Indiana and Southeastern Michigan with skill building and choreography.”

Before joining the staff at Notre Dame, he was the head cheerleading coach and assistant football coach at St. Joseph High School in South Bend, Indiana. 

After being an assistant coach for the St. Joseph cheer program for three seasons, Weiss was given the reigns of the program, in addition to being the defensive line coach of the school’s varsity football program. 

“Needless to say, Friday nights [when the cheerleaders performed at varsity football games] were interesting,” Weiss said.

As head coach, Weiss oversaw a successful cheerleading program of nearly 50 cheerleaders spread across freshmen, junior varsity and varsity teams. 

Weiss, to this day, credits Kelly Brown, his varsity cheerleading assistant coach who ran the varsity cheerleading team on Friday nights during football season, and his two freshmen and two junior varsity coaches as being the sole reason for the team continuing to be successful while he balanced football and cheerleading duties.

“I would never have been able to balance coaching football with managing the [c]heer [p]rogram without the amazing staff I was able to assemble,” he recalled.

He also credited the school’s then-head football coach, Ben Downey, for taking “quite a chance hiring on a guy whose resume included being the current cheerleading coach at the same high school.”

Weiss stated he views coaching as an opportunity to pass on the life lessons he has learned sports to the next generation and particularly enjoys inspiring the next group of leaders that can be found on the Notre Dame campus. 

“My athletes at Notre Dame are not there to be cheerleaders, they are there to earn a world class education, and then go on to leadership positions in their careers,” he stated. “Cheerleading is simply another opportunity for them to grow as men and women through athletics. That being said, they are Division I athletes and it is our responsibility as a coaching staff to develop their skills and demand the same excellence that is expected of them in the classroom at Notre Dame.”

The Catholic university has an extensive tradition of excellence, according to Weiss, in all facets of the university — including academics, athletics, faith and character — that all students, including the cheerleaders, are held to. 

“The skills and techniques we work on at practice are aimed at ensuring that our cheerleading program is an accurate reflection of the great university it represents,” he said. 

As a member of the cheerleading coaching staff at Notre Dame, Weiss is primarily tasked with tumbling instruction, partner stunting, pyramids, game day performances and some choreography. 

Weiss received the opportunity to coach at Notre Dame courtesy one of his fellow football coaches at St. Joseph, who worked within the Notre Dame athletic department and introduced Weiss to Delayna Herndon, the university’s new head cheerleading coach as she was struggling to find a male assistant coach. 

“There were admittedly aspects of college cheerleading that were new to me when I first started,” Weiss said.

He credits Herndon for being such a huge help in his transition from coaching high school to collegiate cheerleading.

“She has been a great person to work for and I have learned so much from her in the past 3 years,” he stated. “She’s really helped me become a more complete college cheerleading coach.”

The best part of being a coach, according to Weiss, is the relationships established with the athletes. 

“Cheerleading in general, and tumbling in particular, present a wonderful opportunity for an incredible journey,” he said. “On day one, I can tell a little kid, ‘Together, we’re going to get you to do a backflip.’ That child inevitably will look back incredulous and doubtful, but the look on that child’s face after months of drills and instruction when they finally execute that skill, is priceless. Through that journey, a relationship is formed that endures forever.”

Weiss says the most difficult aspect of the coaching world is balancing his time between family, coaching and his work as a financial adviser for the Knights of Columbus, with each group counting on him for different reasons. 

“Dividing that time and energy fairly is the greatest challenge of coaching,” he stated. “I think every coach would agree.” 

For those considering breaking into the world of coaching, Weiss stated it is important for former athletes to make the transition into coaching in order to pass along their knowledge to the future generations of the sport. He also advised coaches, both rookie and veteran, to remain open-minded as a coach. 

“The moment we stop learning, we stop growing. Sports change so fast these days, you have to be open minded as a coach,” he said. “You’d be surprised at what you’ll learn, even from your own athletes!”

Asked to provide general advice for those seeking to be recruited by collegiate athletic coaches in any sport, Weiss noted being a multi-sport athlete and weightlifting year-round is crucial. 

“The myth of specialization, especially at a young age, robs kids of so much potential,” he remarked. “My best cheerleaders played soccer in the fall, or volleyball in the winter, ran track in the spring, or did gymnastics.” 

Weiss implores female student-athletes to lift weights, as well, and noted his female cheerleaders lift weights alongside their male counterparts three days a week. 

“Weightlifting will not ruin your feminine physique,” he said. “Look at the women on any Division I cheerleading team if you have doubts. They all weightlift. Work with your high school strength coach or a personal trainer for a program that will fit your needs.”

Reach George Harvey and the sports department at: sports@penbaypilot.com