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Benton cheer coach finds strength in team, teachingOriginally Published January 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 10, 2013 at 6:48 p.m.
BENTON Karen Hilborn’s 25 years at Benton High School not only show that she has a passion for teaching, but her cheerleading squad has the trophies to prove that she has a passion for coaching as well.
Her cheerleaders have won nine championship titles: eight state and one national, and also finished as national runner-up once.
A graduate of Benton High School herself, Hilborn said she wanted to be involved with extracurricular activities at the school, like she was as a student there. After participating in cheerleading in junior high school, being a part of the Pep Steppers in high school and on the college cheerleading squad, Hilborn found a love for the sport.
“I was a cheerleader and a Pep Stepper at Benton when I went through school,” Hilborn said. “I loved cheer and dance always and definitely always wanted to be involved in the extracurricular activities at the school that I was teaching at.”
By taking part in such activities at BHS, Hilborn said she has learned that involvement is the key.
“If you are involved in those types of areas, you just have the opportunity to develop personal relationships with students on a greater level than you do in the classroom,” Hilborn said.
After being a teacher at Benton High School for 25 years and working with the BHS cheerleaders for 16 years, Hilborn said she believes teaching is where she needs to be.
“I really have always considered teaching to be a calling in my life,” she said.
Hilborn went back to school a few years ago and earned a master’s degree in school administration. She said that as much as she would hate to leave the classroom, she thinks being part of administration would be a good change and a challenge for her as an educator.
Although she has spent countless hours dedicated to cheerleading, Hilborn hasn’t always been the cheer coach at Benton.
“I helped start the first softball team they ever had here at Benton High School,” Hilborn said.
After coaching the softball team for five years, the sport was transitioning from slow pitch to fast pitch, which Hilborn had never played.
“It was all good timing for me,” Hilborn said.
She then took the responsibility of becoming the cheerleader and Pep Stepper coach for two years, then just became the coach of the Benton cheerleaders.
Every new school year brings a new group of girls to the team, and they bring new goals to set for the year.
“What I want to accomplish every time I get a new group of girls is to teach them to set goals and to not be afraid to set high goals, but to not be afraid to also work to achieve those goals,” Hilborn said. “A lot of what I do is about really, really, really high expectations, but at the same time, equipping them with the tools they need to reach those goals.”
Goal-setting and achieving are a big part of the sport of cheerleading and of Hilborn’s coaching method.
“I never go into a year saying, ‘My goal this year is to win another state championship and another national championship,’ even though, clearly, that’s what we’re all working toward,” Hilborn said. “There’s other things from a coach’s standpoint that are more important to me in the scope of their lifetime.”
Hilborn said there is a lot of importance in the way the school is represented by the BHS cheerleading squad.
“I want to be a part of a program that is respected by the students at school. I want the parents of my cheerleaders to respect the job that I do with their girls,” Hilborn said. “My community as a whole — I want them to know that we represent Benton the best that we can everywhere we go.”
Even though Hilborn is a teacher, she learns from her students and girls on her cheerleading squad every day. She sees the girls on her team push on, regardless of any obstacles that may come their way, and has learned the importance of hard work.
“They do not give up, and a lot of times they have more confidence in themselves than even I might have in them,” Hilborn said. “There have been times that I have wanted to take a step or two back, and they will make a believer out of me. They’ll say, ‘Mrs. Hilborn, if you’ll just give us a chance, we know we can do this.’”
While there is a cheerleading class period at school, Hilborn said the team takes up a lot of time outside of school.
“Since [my children] graduated and are grown, it really has freed up my time to where I can spend a lot more time working with the cheerleaders, and my husband is completely fine with that,” Hilborn said. “He’s a huge outdoorsman, he loves to fish, and [spending time with the squad] has never been a problem.”
One way Hilborn was able to balance family and cheerleading was that Hilborn’s daughter, Ashley, was on her squad for three years, when Hilborn had both the privilege and “difficulty” of coaching Ashley and her four best friends.
“I had to put on two different hats, from being the mom at home when they are spending the night at our house, and then coming to cheer practice and being the coach,” Hilborn said. “It’s two totally different responsibilities.”
Hilborn said that although the girls were “silly” at practice, and she isn’t silly at practice, she said she never had any problems with her daughter or her friends while they were on the squad.
Hilborn said working with the squad has taught her a lot as a person, but she has another goal that rides on the goals she sets for her girls.
“With all that being said, we’re going to win. That’s what we’re here for, is to win,” Hilborn said. “But in my opinion, you don’t win unless you have all those other things in place.”
Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or email@example.com.
Zoned Editions Staff Writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.