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Denton Record-Chronicle

The passing of the spirit stick

Tracy Henson thought someone made a mistake when the Universal Cheerleaders Association named her an All-American cheerleader.

"When they called my name at first, I looked around and was kind of scared that it wasn't my name and I had heard it wrong," she said. "But once it sank in, I just got so excited."

The 14-year-old was only a freshman on the Aubrey High School junior varsity squad, but she and fellow Aubrey cheerleader Alicia Brand beat out thousands of cheerleaders from around the western half of the country when they auditioned for the select squad over the summer.

The real surprise, though, came from Tracy's mother, Ashly.

"Btw I made All-American," Tracy texted Ashly while she was away at cheer camp.

"WHAT?" her 43-year-old mother screamed when she called Tracy back.

Tears began streaming down Ashly's face because she knew what her daughter was feeling. Twenty-eight years earlier, she heard her own name called for the very same reason.

"It really is a legacy," Ashly said. "I know Tracy doesn't understand it, but when she has a daughter, she will."

Cheer and dance runs in the family. Before Ashly or Tracy were even thoughts in the world, Ashly's mother, Debra, danced on the original Fillies drill team when it formed in 1968 at Denton High School.

Ashley Henson (top row, far right) was named an All-American cheerleader when she was a freshman at Aubrey High School in 1989. Her daughter, Tracy, won the same honor 28 years later.Ashly Henson
Ashley Henson (top row, far right) was named an All-American cheerleader when she was a freshman at Aubrey High School in 1989. Her daughter, Tracy, won the same honor 28 years later.
Ashly Henson

Ashly had been involved in gymnastics since childhood. About seven years into the program, she realized she needed to make a choice: Continue with gymnastics classes on Thursday nights, or potentially cheer on the junior varsity squad on Thursday nights.

"At that point, I had literally outgrown gymnastics," Ashly said. "I was just too tall to do anything. So I chose cheer, took the tumbling that I had learned and actually made the varsity squad my freshman year."

Ashly took her talent and put it toward her All-American audition. She perfected her stunts, her cheers and her dances. In her freshman year, she became Aubrey's first All-American cheerleader. She repeated the feat again her senior year and graduated from Aubrey High in 1993.

Like her mother, Tracy also started out in gymnastics and dance classes. She began cheerleading in sixth grade with the Aubrey Area Youth Sports Association and moved on to cheering for the school team in seventh grade.

As an All-American, Tracy got to participate in the Houston Thanksgiving Day Parade with 135 other cheerleaders. The weather was on the chilly side, but Tracy perked up when she saw Ashly cheering — and crying a little bit — from the grandstands.

"The first thing I saw when I came down was my mom jumping up and down, screaming with a lime green jacket on," Tracy said, shaking her head, half in gratitude and half in typical teenage embarrassment.

Cheer and dance run in the family. Ashly Henson was an All-American cheerleader at Aubrey in the 1990s while her daughter, Tracy, cheers for the same school today. Ashly's mother, Debra, danced on the original Fillies drill team when it formed in 1968 at Denton High School.DRC
Cheer and dance run in the family. Ashly Henson was an All-American cheerleader at Aubrey in the 1990s while her daughter, Tracy, cheers for the same school today. Ashly's mother, Debra, danced on the original Fillies drill team when it formed in 1968 at Denton High School.
DRC

Having a daughter excel in the same sport her mother excelled at has posed some challenges for the pair. Although Ashly has never coached Tracy in any official capacity, she will give the occasional pointer, telling Tracy to straighten out her arms or remember to smile, something Tracy rolls her eyes at.

Ashly's cheerleading experience also allows her to remain calm as her daughter flies around during stunts.

"I know what to expect," Ashly said. "I don't gasp when they throw her up in the air. I'm a little more at ease with it because I have a background in it."

Though the uniforms and hairstyles have changed since the 1990s (though there's still an obscene amount of hairspray involved), the Hensons said the teamwork associated with cheerleading remains the same.

"I really like how they have to come together," Ashly said. "Even if they're bickering or fighting, they have to put that aside because that top person can't fall."

Tracy said she plans to try out for the varsity squad in the spring and keep cheering throughout high school. She also wants to try out for Texas Elite, a competitive cheer squad that travels to regional and national contests around the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Outside of cheerleading, Tracy wants to enter the school's cosmetology program and graduate with her cosmetology license. She plans to go to business school afterward and start her own salon.

"I have a plan," Tracy said confidently, drumming her manicured nails on the table.

For now, though, the Hensons will continue to go to football games to watch older son Jaret lead the band as a drum major and, of course, watch Tracy cheer. Sometimes, old classmates will come up to Ashly and say, "Oh, I see your girl down there cheering. I bet that brings back memories."

When that happens — and it nearly always does — Ashly's heart swells with pride.

"Bringing her up not only in the same sport, but also in the same town has really been a blessing," Ashly said, wiping a tear away from her eyes — the same shade of hazel as her daughter's. "To watch her be even better at that sport than you could've ever been makes it even sweeter."

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.