BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island High School cheerleading Coach Missy Leland found her way back this year to the program she’s loved since she participated as a student.
Following the 2017 competition cheer season, Mount Desert Island’s previous coach, Katie Leighton, stepped down. The team needed a new leader.
The school reached out to Leland to see if she could help recruit and mentor a new coach. With 15 years of experience as a cheerleader and coach, she knew the qualities the team’s next leader would need more than anybody.
That plan fell through when the Trojans couldn’t find someone for Leland to mentor. Yet after taking time to think, she found a fix to the team’s dilemma: She took the job herself.
“I’d always told myself I’d get back in there some day, and when the opportunity came, I was ready for it,” she said.
Leland, 38, is no stranger to the cheerleading scene at MDI. She was a member of the varsity team before graduating from the school in 1997 and beginning her first stint as the team’s coach in 2001.
More than a decade later, Leland decided it was time for a change. In 2012, she stepped away from the position to focus on her wedding and her seasonal job as the manager at Seafood Ketch restaurant in Bass Harbor.
“It just started to wear on me because I had started coaching in my early 20s, and the time felt right to take a break,” Leland said. “But when they were looking for a new coach and couldn’t find someone I could mentor, I thought, ‘You know, I think I’m ready to do this again.’”
This year’s competition cheer team will feature a mixture of newcomers and returning members. Leland said the Trojans have a total of 17 members, 10 of whom were on last year’s team.
The Trojans finished sixth at last year’s Big East championships in Bar Harbor and fifth at the Penobscot Valley Conference championships in Caribou. They narrowly missed qualifying for the state tournament at the regional championships in Bangor, but Leland hopes to change that this season.
“I see a team that’s working very hard and wants a title,” Leland said. “They have a lot of heart, and I think they’re going to get better as the season goes on.”
Being at their best by year’s end is especially important in cheerleading, a sport in which the best teams have to post an excellent routine to make the state championships. The Trojans have their first meet in Old Town on Jan. 6, after which they’ll compete in the Big East championships on Jan. 13, the PVC championships on Jan. 20 and the regional championships on Jan. 27.
“For that early competition, you mostly focus on putting together something clean,” Leland said. “We want to perform well every time, but Jan. 27 is definitely a date we have circled.”
Regardless of how the team places, Leland is in it for the long haul. Now that she’s back on board, she plans on leading the Trojans for the foreseeable future.
“I wouldn’t have come back if I weren’t willing to put at least five more years into this,” Leland said. “I think the program is headed for something special, and my goal is to take it there.”