By Jim Sullivan
---- — When Newburyport High School athletic director Bob Clarke found his program without a cheerleading coach after Brendon Graffum exited last fall, he didn’t have to look very far for a new one. She spends most of her days cooking just down the hall.
“They didn’t have a coach,” said NHS nutrition instructor and first-year Clippers cheerleading coach Nadine Holohan. “They came to me about a week before the preseason started. But I felt bad for the kids and I love my students and I love it here. That’s the first thing that I thought about. I went home and talked to my husband. I figured, ‘How could I help them out?’ I met with Bob Clarke the next day and told him, ‘This is what I can give you.’”
What Holohan could give the school was a coach who operates at the collegiate level. The head cheerleading coach at Merrimack College since 2011, this Newburyport native and mother of two Clipper alumni cheered for Triton and was a three-time captain in her high school years. She then went on to coach cheerleading for the past 24 years, starting at Triton in 1989 then moving to North Andover High and Timberlane High before landing her position at Merrimack.
“She had done some stuff with the cheering squad in the spring,” said Clarke. “So we reached out to her and asked her if she knew anybody, and if she could help us in a pinch. She agreed to work with the team and keep the squad in place throughout the season, so it was kind of like us recognizing her and her talents, and her making a tremendous commitment to Newburyport High School and its cheering.”
“I have an extensive background, and I am a collegiate coach and I am a teacher,” said Holohan. “I think the combination is just perfect. It’s wonderful to be able to coach and to teach at the same place.”
But Holohan, who has been with NHS for the past three years and advises the student council as well as the culinary club, runs a tight ship, as her mostly freshman squad can attest.
“I’m very apologetic when I say, ‘No,’” said Holohan. “You have to be strict, it’s a dangerous sport. The physical end of the sport is phenomenal, but it has to be done correctly, from the ground up, and you have to follow the rules. Because, if you don’t, you’re going to hurt people.”
Her typical day at the moment begins with school at 7 a.m. She regroups after school at 2:30, gathers herself, then it’s off to either her next club or next sporting event, be it a practice or a game.
“I have always been crazy busy,” said Holohan. “I like to be crazy busy. When I coached at Timberlane, I was teaching in Stoneham, commuting back up to Plaistow (New Hampshire), coaching there six days a week and competing. Then I would come home to Newburyport. I think I had dinner? I can’t remember.”
At the moment, Holohan has practice twice a week with the Warriors and twice a week with the Clippers.
“I like to be busy, and I love cheerleading,” said Holohan. “Friday nights I will have games here. Saturdays, I will have games at Merrimack. Sundays, I’ll have practice at Merrimack. So there is really not an extra day in there. But it’s OK.”
That busy schedule and the lateness of her hire will unfortunately preclude the Clippers from competing this year.
“I couldn’t run two competitive programs, in all fairness,” said Holohan. “I’m not sure if the school is calling it varsity or not. We will be cheering at all the varsity football games, but we will not be competing.”
“The school is going to consider it a varsity squad,” said Clarke. “But it is not going to compete in varsity competition. A lot of credit goes to her. She is willing to put in the time, effort and energy that we were trying to find in people. She wants to help the kids. She loves Newburyport High School. Cheering is a passion of hers and that’s why we reached out to her. She accepted and she really stepped up to the plate with what she provides for these kids.”