The Millennials: Jen Hlady cheers on the next generation.

February 28, 2015
Jen Hlady goes over cheers with her team.

Jen Hlady goes over cheers with her team.


Editor’s Note: Sustaining a community and keeping it vibrant requires diversity on many levels, especially among age groups. An unintended movement the last few years has been the increased number of millennials who have taken a role in community and business leadership in Mason County. A millennial, also known as Generation Y, is defined as a person who was born in the early ‘80s and sooner. This generation grew up in the digital age and often offers a unique and fresh perspective to leadership.

This is the seventh story in our weekly series on the area’s millennials who are making an impact in our community. 

Sponsored by All Access Care of Ludington. Located at 329 N. Jebavy Dr. in Ludington; 231-425-4544;

By Kate Krieger. Senior Correspondent.

all_access_sponsorship_100114HART – Choosing a career in teaching isn’t like choosing the typical 9 to 5 job. The job not only entails changing the lives of students in the classroom, but it has evolved into changing the lives of students outside of the classroom as well. Teachers spend much of their time working after the kids have gone home, purchasing items out of their own pockets for the school or for students, grading homework into the late night hours and visiting students in their homes to make sure they have everything they need to succeed. Teachers have gone from strictly teaching to becoming second parents to many students they are involved with each year.

Hart High School physical education teacher, Jen Hlady, 34, knows all about what it takes to be a great teacher fist hand. Jen’s parents, Don and Katie Peterson, were both physical education teachers and dedicated much of their own free time to working with students in and out of the classroom. Their early examples of teaching and volunteering definitely show up in their daughter.

Teaching for 11 years at Hart High School, Jen continues to get involved in as much as she can to help students succeed. She is no stranger to spending long hours at school.

“I live in Ludington and I teach a zero hour class at 7:30 a.m.,” she says. “I usually don’t leave school until 8:30 p.m. most nights after practice. I basically live in Hart during the school week and drive home to sleep.”

Jen and her husband, Steve, both teach at Hart. Steve is the assistant principal at Hart Middle School, teaches two middle-school P.E. classes and coaches eighth grade boy’s basketball. The couple has a 1-year-old son, Koye and Jen says she is very grateful to Steve because he does a lot with Koye during the school week so she can do so much at school.

Involved in the School Improvement Team, acting as the student council advisor, teaching student leadership as a zero hour course and getting ready to take seven high school students to Washington D.C. for Close Up, Jen has her hands full. But, one of her biggest accomplishments is coaching the competitive cheer team. She started the team and the last five years in a row they have won the district championship.

“I started cheer eight years ago,” Jen says. “I also coach sideline cheer during football season. Competitive cheer is a lot harder than it looks. It’s all cheering with no music.”

The Hart High School competitive cheer team.

The Hart High School competitive cheer team.

Thirteen girls make up Jen’s cheer squad this year: Katelynn Herrygers, Jen Gottardo, Nichole Jorissen, Kassidy Baum, Hannah Kuipers, MIrella Barco, Maia Jonassen, Kaitlyn VanderZanDen, Erika Wadel, Lexi King, Delaney Moul, Hanna Mead and Jaden Hanks. The three seniors, Jen Gottardo, 17, Nichole Jorissen, 17, and Katelynn Herrygers, 17, say their coach is very supportive and keeps them motivated, even during times of doubt and discouragement.

“She’s really intense,” Jen Gottardo says. “It’s a good thing though, because she really pushes us. She knows what we’re capable of.”

Nichole agrees with Jen and says, “Coach Hlady doesn’t settle for mediocrity. She doesn’t let us stop at OK, it has to be great.”

Obviously Jen’s coaching styles are working out for the squad because they are traveling to Sparta today to compete in the Division Four Regional competitive cheer competition, where Hart will face off against 11 other teams.

When asked about any tough competition, Jen says that Houghton Lake, who used to be in a larger division, now competes in her division due to a drop in their school’s enrollment.

“Houghton Lake is pretty strong this year,” she says. “They’re good. I’ve seen them and they’re a strong team.”

Not only does Jen work hard and motivate her team members during practice and at competitions, she is also motivating them outside of the sport and during the school day her team members say.

“She enjoys making us motivated,” Katelynn says. “She gets us going. She has brought us in goodie bags and she even rented out the heated pool at the Comfort Inn for some team bonding time during a down part of the season.”

All the girls say Jen really tries to make the sport as fun for the girls as possible, while pushing them to each do their personal best.

“This is my first year,” Nichole says. “Sometimes I would get really frustrated, but she would help me and wouldn’t let me stop. She really makes it fun for us, which makes us want to do well.”

With the support of Jen, the team parents, assistant coach, Tracey Williamson and the Hart High School community, the girls are excited to be able to do so well as a team and for Hart itself.

“Our parents and Coach Hlady made signs for us,” Jen Gottardo says. “We get a lot of support from other students. Some used to say, ‘oh, they’re just cheerleaders,’ but now I think they see how hard the sport is.”

For all the naysayers of the sports, Jen says that there is a lot more to it than just waving your arms around and shouting out chants.

“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” she says. “There are a lot of technicalities that people don’t think about. It has many different components and a lot of gymnastics, too. It’s a lot more fun than cheering at a game and it’s way more competitive.”

Along with her five back-to-back district championships, Jen also has some stand out graduates from her team that she has been extremely proud of.

“Jessie Wadel, sister of Erika Wadel, who is my current flyer, cheers for University of Michigan,” Jen says. “Stacie Shellhouse, who graduated last year from Hart, is a freshman at Davenport and she cheers there. They are back-to-back national champs.”

With a great team of girls, great parents and a community of support behind her, Jen is very excited for Saturday and to see how far her girls can go.

“We’ve had such huge support,” she says. “There really has been a great support from all of my parents and my husband and family has been so helpful. I’m excited for districts and for my team.”


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