Second in a series of locals who were part of professional sports in the past.
Before taking over Bainbridge High School’s cheer program in 2014, coach Tawnya Jackson had a storied history in the sport.
But before becoming a cheerleader, Jackson was a multi-sport athlete in high school in Everett. Despite playing soccer and basketball, she was drawn to cheerleading.
“I had a friend who really wanted to cheer, and she talked me into it,” Jackson said. “Once I got there, it drew me in. They have this amazing energy, and everything is positive. Everything is about how do you make other people happy, how do you entertain them, and I gravitated toward it.”
In 1982, Jackson started college at Seattle Pacific, but it did not have a cheer program. So she participated in musical theater and events at Capitol Hill.
A year later, she turned heads with her performances, including mentor Mike Jordan, who told Jackson she should try out for the Seattle Seahawks cheerleading squad, known as the Sea Gals.
“I looked up to Mike,” Jackson said. “He was like, ‘You can do this! You got all the things they are looking for.’ As for me, I really liked performing so this was another platform where I can perform.”
Before the 1983 football season started, Jackson went through an excruciating tryout process. “For a lot of people, they probably have seen the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and their film about tryouts. Our tryouts were very similar to that,” Jackson said.
She said the first day consisted of nearly 500 women competing for a handful of spots. Every woman gets a number and starts dancing to music. If your number popped up, you learned a routine and had one day to practice. You return and have to hit the routine to make the next cut. If you did pass that round, you did a formal interview, learn another routine, and be weighed by the team.
After a weeklong process, Jackson found out she became a Sea Gal. Although she was balancing her personal life with cheerleading, she was ecstatic to make the squad. “I love the Seahawks,” Jackson said, adding she was on the team from 1983-86. She said it was much different than in high school.
“In high school, you are on the sideline getting the fans involved in the game,” Jackson said. “The Sea Gals are just about performing. It wasn’t about getting the crowd to join in.”
Jackson performed before every home Seahawks game, but another aspect of being a volunteer Sea Gal made an everlasting impact on her.
“We were invited to the Children’s Cancer Society, sign posters, talk with the kids, and take photos,” Jackson said. “That to me was amazing.”
In 1986, Jackson worked in marketing for Alaska Airlines and found it was a struggle to balance her family, work and cheerleading. So she left, but kept one important lesson from being a Sea Gal. “I started volunteering at the YMCA with the little cheerleaders,” Jackson said.
When she and her husband moved to West Seattle, she volunteered with the Junior Sea Gals program before heading to Bainbridge Island in 2011. Her family decided to come to BI when her first child was about to start high school. She began looking for opportunities.
“My son was entering as a freshman, and he was being considered to be the quarterback at Bainbridge High,” Jackson said. “I would come to the summer practices in 2011 and sit in the stands. Sure enough, I saw the cheerleaders practicing and being who I am, I introduced myself to the coach. I told her I would love to volunteer. She took me up on it, and I started as an assistant coach.”
Jackson took over the Bainbridge cheer program in 2014 and began putting her own spin on the program. She plans to return for her ninth season to a squad that finished fifth at state last season.
“We not only cheer, tumble and stunt, we do dancing,” Jackson said. “A lot of the [Sea Gal] dance moves are dated because it was in the 1980s, but I still pull music from the 1980s because who doesn’t love 1980s music? When I do that, I pull some old moves I have learned.”
Besides bringing in some old-school Sea Gal tactics, Jackson threw in new tactics to spice up the performances.
“I have to manage what I think is cool and what the high schoolers think is cool,” Jackson said. “I do a lot of searching on YouTube, Instagram and look for videos and different dance moves from artists that are popular today and pull moves from that.”
Her unique style of blending the old with the new gives nearly 60 cheerleaders a sense of confidence within the program. After all, Jackson allows the captains to create their own music and choreography with her support.
Although Jackson helps along the way, the former Sea Gal loves to see her athletes succeed.
“I love seeing a student-athlete who doesn’t believe in themselves when they try out and watching them grow into this person who is confident in themselves and their athletic ability grows,” Jackson said.
Despite being in cheer for decades, Jackson does not see herself leaving it yet.
“I eat, breathe and sleep cheer,” Jackson said. “I drive my husband crazy because I’m constantly choreographing at home, listening to music. It’s just who I am, and I love it. When I wake up in the morning, I am ready to go.
“Of course I love my job here as security, but I get to interact with the students and keep me youthful. When I stop coaching, I will have to find something to replace it. It gives me an opportunity to get good workouts in and keeps me happy.”