‘A lot of spirit’: New La Jolla High cheerleading coach looks to bring squad a lift

New La Jolla High cheerleading coach Christian Velasquez is pictured during his own cheer days at San Diego State University.
New La Jolla High School cheerleading coach Christian Velasquez is pictured during his own cheer days at San Diego State University.
(Provided by Christian Velasquez)

Christian Velasquez eyes building a ‘foundation’ of skills with more stunts as he replaces a former coach dismissed in November amid allegations of abusive behavior.


After the controversial dismissal of its last cheerleading coach, La Jolla High School recently appointed Christian Velasquez as the program’s new leader.

Velasquez, a cheerleader since high school and currently a counselor at La Jolla’s Muirlands Middle School, said he wants to create an uplifting culture — physically and mentally — with increased stunt work and an eye on competitions.

“I want to start from the bottom and build up,” he said. “I believe in perfection over progression, which means perfecting the skills we need before moving on to something else. Proper technique is so important, so we want to have that foundation every step of the way.”

Velasquez also plans to integrate more stunts into the routines, he said.

“We’re very fortunate that La Jolla High School has brand-new floor mats that are rolled out on harder surfaces, so we practice on those to keep things safe,” he said. “We are always practicing safely, making sure we progress and level up safely and not do everything at once.”

The wall displays photos and plaques for alumni Cliff Robertson, Raquel Welch, Gore Verbinski and Robin Wright and former theater teacher Walter Stewart.

Velasquez started cheering during his sophomore year at Calexico High School in east San Diego County after his PE coach noticed his enthusiasm at school events and always being front and center at games. He went on to cheer at San Diego State University, where he competed in national tournaments, performed on the sidelines at games and participated in community events.

Post-graduation, he worked at cheerleading camps and with schools in the San Diego Unified School District.

Through it all, stunts were his forte.

“I did a lot of partner stunts and group stunts and kind of was typecast as that guy,” Velasquez said.

Thus, at La Jolla High he’d like to see “a lot of stunts, leveling up our skills and showing those skills on the sidelines,” he said. “We also want to create a lot of fan encouragement and provide a lot of spirit.”

Christian Velasquez (bottom) says he wants to bring more stunts to the La Jolla High School cheerleading team.
(Provided by Christian Velasquez)

Calling this “a rebuilding year,” Velasquez said he is still working with the team to determine baseline skills and grow from there. But eventually, he said, he would like the team members to compete in regional and national tournaments and eventually cheer in college.

“The connections you make from cheering in college are different from other sports,” he said. “My roommates are people I have met through cheerleading. It’s rooted in community building and helps you develop social skills and athletics. You are part of a community. You connect in ways you wouldn’t think. College cheer gave me my friends, chances to be at NCAA games, public appearances. It became a full experience for me.”

His appointment at La Jolla High in April came after the former cheer coach and assistant coach were dismissed after allegations of abusive treatment and retaliation.

Elsie Lopez, who had led the Vikings’ cheer teams since 2019 and worked in the school’s office as its attendance clerk, was let go as coach by Principal Chuck Podhorsky and Vice Principal Joe Cavaiola in November.

Delia Lopez, Elsie’s mother and the school’s registrar, was dismissed as assistant cheer coach.

Both stayed on in their other jobs and are still on the La Jolla High staff list for the current 2022-23 school year.

Delia Lopez said Nov. 8 that no reason was given for their dismissal as coaches, other than that administrators were “going to take the cheer program in a different direction.”

However, parents of at least four cheer squad members alleged that their children had been emotionally and verbally abused by the Lopezes.

The Lopezes denied any harassment or abuse. Delia called the allegations “very disturbing.”

Some parents rallied behind the two, saying they “changed our girls’ lives academically and … otherwise,” and called their removal as coaches “heartbreaking.” ◆