Across the blue pad covering the hardwood floor of one of Mount Pleasant High School gymnasiums, a man can be seen pacing around with his hands in his pockets, trying to stay calm.
Flint junior DaRron Johnson can never stomach much food before or during a cheer competition of this magnitude, and it seemed to show.
“It depends on the competition; there are some that I know are going to be close,” said Johnson, a volunteer coach for Mount Pleasant High School’s varsity cheer team and a Central Michigan University cheerleader. “Sometimes I can eat before, but I never can during an event.”
Mount Pleasant High School’s varsity cheer squad was finishing up its third round performance, fighting 11 other teams for the top four spots to advance to regionals. They only trailed DeWitt in total points and were trying to make up the deficit.
Johnson has spent the last three years contributing when he can outside of school and his involvement as a CMU cheerleader.
“I used to be the shyest person,” Johnson said. “(Coaching) has made me come out of my shell and express myself more.”
In his sophomore year, Johnson was named game captain for football games at Kelly/Shorts Stadium and went on to claim that title once more. Johnson said he has always been amazed at how intense being on the field in front of a packed stadium can be, and yet he gets nervous when he is only a bystander for the team he coaches.
“I try to give them encouragement, keep them calm and just be there for them,” Johnson said through laughs. “I’ve learned a lot with helping these girls.”
After cheering for three years, injuries have mounted, ranging from the common bloody nose to jammed fingers and sprained ankles.
Earlier this year, Johnson had to sit out with a shoulder sublux and felt as though he had let his team down.
“When I had to sit out, I felt like I was missing a lot because I wasn’t doing my job,” Johnson said.
One of Johnson’s teammates on the CMU cheer team is South Lyon sophomore Kristina Kurnat, who remembered when he sat out for a few games and practices.
“It was hard not having DaRron when he was sitting out,” she said. “And we all kind of fell off without him.”
Kurnat and Johnson have been game partners for the last two football seasons and met each other when Kurnat came for tryouts prior to her freshman year.
“He was just a natural leader and a good teacher, and he had a lot of good pointers,” Kurnat said. “We have really good partner chemistry and are really close friends.”
After stumbling across the cheer tent that recruited him his freshman year, Johnson has not looked back and is enjoying every minute of being a CMU cheerleader.
“I just can’t see my life without it, and it’s a big part of me,” Johnson said. “At CMU, we come in as teammates, but we leave as family.”
Although the Mount Pleasant varsity squad placed second in the tournament, they made it to regionals, with only one more tournament to go before the state finals.
Johnson said he wants to become a physical education teacher, as well as a cheer coach, when he graduates CMU. Kurnat thought that would only be fitting for the man who constantly paces.
“He will do really well and is very knowledgeable when it comes to this sport,” Kurnat said. “He is a real easy person to have as your coach because of his personality.”