Jamieson Hooks has always had a passion for performing. As a senior at East Marion High School, he received the opportunity to do so as a member of the Eagles' cheerleading team, and his efforts paid off in a major way.
On May 5, the roles were reversed, with East Marion's teachers and students cheering on Hooks as he signed with Southwest Mississippi Community College as the first male cheerleader from the school to earn a full cheer scholarship.
For Hooks, the son of Chris and Stephanie Gatlin and the late Joseph Hooks, singing and dancing have always seemed to come naturally. Though others were concerned that joining the cheerleading team would draw negative attention, Hooks credited his cheer coach, Tibby Johnson, for encouraging him to take a leap of faith and join her squad to showcase his natural talents.
"My senior year was my first year as a cheerleader, and I absolutely loved it," Hooks said. "Not everyone supported the decision at first, but they were only trying to look out for me. Mrs. Johnson really encouraged me to join because she knew it was something I really wanted, and I'm really glad she did because I wouldn't have gotten this experience if she hadn't."
"Jamieson has an incredible story," Johnson explained after his scholarship was signed in the school gym. "At first, his mother did not want him to be on the team. She was afraid that he would be picked on, and she was only looking to protect him. Eventually I was able to speak with her about how incredibly talented her son is and how much he loved being a part of our team, and she got the chance to see that for herself. Now she's his biggest fan."
Hooks, his family and his friends at East Marion hope that his decision to step out of the box and pursue his passions will inspire others, such as his younger siblings, Cierra Cotton and Francis Funchess, to chase their own dreams without allowing fear of failure or ridicule to dictate their success.
"We're all so incredibly proud of Jamieson and the exceptionally talented young man he's becoming," Johnson said. "He took a leap of faith to do what he loves, and I believe others are going to see that and think, 'Wait, maybe I don't have to fit into all of the other boxes that people want to put me in.'
"He's a wonderful young man, and it's been a true blessing to be his coach. I know he'll keep making us all proud at Southwest, and I can't wait to go watch him perform."
Hooks will travel to Summit later this month for an intense week of training with his new cheer team at Southwest, then he'll return home to enjoy the summer with family and friends before moving onto campus and beginning the new journey. Though he'll miss cheering for the Eagles on Friday nights, Hooks said he's excited to begin this new chapter, with a bigger stage to showcase the all of the skills that he harnessed in his hometown at East Marion.
"It's going to be amazing. I can't wait," Hooks said. "I love my new coach, and I can't wait to just get there after graduation and meet everybody. I'm just really excited to start a new chapter and do what I love."