MHSA(Q&)A: Gibraltar Carlson cheer coach Christina Wilson

February 17, 2012

After cheering through middle and high school, Gibraltar Carlson competitive cheer coach Christina Wilson started coaching the Marauders’ middle school team the season after she graduated from Carlson High in 2001. She took over the varsity team in 2007 – and has accomplished in a short time what many coaches hope for over decades.

Carlson has won three of the last four MHSAA Division 2 championships – also finishing runner-up in 2010 – and is ranked No. 1 in its division heading into District competition this weekend. The Marauders have had a strong program throughout the history of competitive cheer as an MHSAA sport – they won the Class B championship in 1995 under Pat Christiansen and finished runners-up three straight seasons after that – but are on a run unequaled over the last five seasons.

Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and Oakland’s cheer teams now boast former Carlson athletes, and all of this success could be just the start – Wilson may have accomplished a lot early in her career, but she said she hopes to keep the Marauders rolling for years to come.

What kind of things did you learn from your high school coach that you still teach today?

As soon as I started coaching middle school – we also got a new coach at the varsity level as well, so we had new coaching throughout the program at that time – I took and got the resources from our former coach in ’95 (Pat Christiansen) and started using all her resources. Everything she implemented and used for her teams, I took and continue to use today

Her daughter (Tami) coached with her in ’95 when we won the state championship, and she recently came back in 2010 as one of our assistants. She brought back that mentality of ’95 of working hard … the harder the practices the more successful you’ll be … make practices count enough so on Saturdays you can be as prepared as you can be … and the importance of making of making good decisions, in practice and outside sports as well.

Your program had success previously. But what happened to take Gibraltar Carlson to the next level?

I started coaching middle school, and by the time I moved up to varsity all (my) rules and procedures, the kids were used to it and it was (the same) throughout the program. It was becoming a program-wide thing to become excellent. It wasn’t just team by team, and I think that helped. We hold our kids to really high standards, and we’re expected to reach our goals and expectations.

What is the one big thing your athletes take away after four years of being part of your program?

We have the mementos and the championship rings and those things. But I think it’s a sense of pride. It gives them a sense of self. They know they can have goals, and if they work hard they can achieve those goals. If they put their minds to something, it’s something they can grasp if they work hard. I think that whole mentality of working hard, pursuing goals and teamwork is instilled right from the get-go, and something they take with them when they leave the program.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?

It’s not easy. We go to several camps; there’s a champion cheerleading camp we go to every summer. We work with college teams too; they come and show us things they do and teach us things. We take some kids every once in a while to out-of-state clinics (Kentucky, Bowling Green, etc.). We really try a diversity of things to get the girls out there and experiencing things. The techniques and ideas, it’s all about seeing something and then adding that to imagination to come up with whatever knows what.

Why are your teams so consistent?

We hold them to high expectations. We have gymnastics classes that they regularly attend, and on their own they go to the gymnastics facility once or twice a week extra on top of that to stay on top of their skills stay among the best athletes in state. One thing we do every year is we create a huge goal board. What we do after we start competing, is every Monday we check off what we’ve completed on the goal board. It’s not just a mental aspect, but it’s visual. Every week focus on something we try to achieve.

What do you enjoy most about coaching?

I love working with the kids. They’re funny. Practice is something new every day; you never know what you’re going to get. It’s so much fun. (And) competing is fun. I like the aspect of competition, the intensity of it. That’s lots of fun too. Winning is fun.

This is the sport Gibraltar Carlson has become known for, the one in which it’s had the most success lately.

It’s starting to grow. People look at cheerleading like, “Oh, it’s cheerleading.” We are definitely gaining the respect of other coaches and other programs, other sports and teachers and the student body. The really cool thing is when people start to look at the sport and realize how physically demanding it is. It makes us feel good to hear when other coaches say they think maybe the cheerleaders might be some of the best athletes in this school.

PHOTO from last season's MHSAA Division 2 Final at the Grand Rapids DeltaPlex.

High School 'Hoop Squad' Close to Heart as Hughes Continues Coaching Climb

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

July 11, 2024

Jareica Hughes had a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball career playing at University of Texas-El Paso and has played professionally overseas, but her most prized possession is something she earned playing high school basketball in Michigan. 

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosA standout at now-closed Southfield-Lathrup High School during the early-to-mid 2000s, Hughes proudly displays a signature symbol of Lathrup’s Class A championship team in 2005. 

“I have my state championship ring on me right now,” said Hughes, now an assistant head coach for the women’s basketball program at UTEP. “I wear this ring every single day. Not so much for the basketball aspect. Inside of the ring it says ‘Hoop Squad.’ It’s more the connection I’ve had with those particular young ladies. Friends that I’ve known since I was kid. Every once in a while when we talk, we go back in time.”

Believe it or not, Hughes and her high school teammates next year will have to go back 20 years to commemorate a run to the title that started when they were freshmen. 

It was a gradual build-up to what was the first girls basketball state championship won by a public school in Oakland County. Lathrup, which has since merged with the former Southfield High School to form Southfield Arts & Technology, remained the only public school in Oakland County to win a state girls basketball title until West Bloomfield did so in 2022 and again this past March. 

Lathrup lost in the District round to Bloomfield Hills Marian during Hughes’ freshman year, and then after defeating Marian in a District Final a year later, lost to West Bloomfield in a Regional Final.

When Hughes was a junior, the team got to the state’s final four, but a bad third quarter resulted in a heartbreaking one-point Semifinal loss to eventual champion Lansing Waverly. 

A year later, when Hughes and other core players such as Brittane Russell, Timika Williams, Dhanmite’ Slappey and Briana Whitehead were seniors, they finished the job and won the Class A crown with a 48-36 win over Detroit Martin Luther King in the Final.

However, the signature moment of that title run actually came during the Semifinal round and was produced by Hughes, a playmaking wizard at point guard who made the team go. 

Trailing by three points during the waning seconds of regulation against Grandville and Miss Basketball winner Allyssa DeHaan – a dominant 6-foot-8 center – Hughes drained a tying 3-pointer from the wing that was well beyond the 3-point line. 

Lathrup went on to defeat Grandville in overtime and prevail against King.

Hughes said the year prior, she passed up on taking a potential winning or tying shot in the Semifinal loss against Waverly, and was reminded of that constantly by coaches and teammates. “I just remember in the huddle before that shot, that just kept ringing in my mind,” she said. “That was special. I cried for weeks not being able to get a shot off (the year before) and leaving the tournament like that.”

Growing up in Detroit, Hughes got into basketball mainly because she had five older brothers and an older sister who played the game. In particular, Hughes highlights older brother Gabriel for getting her into the game and taking her from playground to playground.

“I’m from Detroit,” she said. “We played ball all day long. Sunup to sundown. When the light comes on, you had to run your butt into the house.”

Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center.Hughes played for the Police Athletic League and also at the famed St. Cecilia gym in the summer, developing her game primarily against boys.

“My first team was on a boys team,” she said. “I was a captain on a boys team.” 

The family moved into Lathrup’s district before she began high school. 

Once she helped lead Lathrup to the 2005 championship, she went on to a fine career at UTEP, where she was the Conference USA Player of the Year twice and helped lead the Miners to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Hughes still holds school records for career assists (599), steals (277) and minutes played (3,777). On Monday, she was named to Conference USA’s 2024 Hall of Fame class. 

After a brief professional career overseas was derailed by a shoulder injury, Hughes said getting into coaching was a natural fit. 

“I had to make the hard decision, and I knew as a kid I wanted to be around basketball,” she said. “Once I made that decision (to quit), I knew I was going to coach.”

Hughes started coaching in the Detroit area, first serving as an assistant at Southfield A&T from 2016-20 and then at Birmingham Groves for a season. She then served as interim head coach at Colby Community College in Kansas before being named an assistant at UTEP in May 2023, a month after her former coach Keitha Adams returned to lead the program after six seasons at Wichita State.  

While fully immersed in her job with UTEP, Hughes’ high school memories in Michigan certainly aren’t going away anytime soon – especially with the 20th anniversary of Lathrup’s championship coming up. 

“We are still close friends because we all essentially grew up together,” she said. “They are still my friends to this day.”

2024 Made In Michigan

July 10: Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach - Read
June 28:
 E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Southfield-Lathrup’s Jareica Hughes drives to the basket against Detroit Martin Luther King during the 2005 Class A Final; at right, Hughes coaches this past season at UTEP. (Middle) Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center. (UTEP photo courtesy of the UTEP sports information department.)