When Paul Salomon arrived at the Maui All-Star Cheerleading team’s gym in his native Hawaii in 2010, he had no idea that a coaching job would turn into a family business just a few years later.
It was there that he met Lauren, the founder of the team. The two worked alongside one another as coaches before one day deciding to take their relationship to personal level.
“I showed up for a job and we became best friends,” Paul said. “One day we decided we should just date and it went on from there. Cheer has been in our lives forever and it helped bring us together as a family.”
Eight years later, they’re married and the Salomon’s find themselves back in the Ahwatukee area where Lauren had spent time as a member of and later a coach of Mountain Pointe High’s cheer program.
But this time, they became the coaches at Horizon Honors, a tuition-free, public charter K-12 school in Ahwatukee.
“Our son was going into kindergarten last year so we had to decide where he would go to school and we landed on Horizon,” Lauren said. “The first year was amazing. We found out they were in need of coaches and what better place to be than where our kids go to school.”
The Horizon Honors Spiritline had just six members last year. Along with low participation, the program never had a fight song or different props outside of basic uniforms.
That has all changed in short order under Paul and Lauren.
They were hired just before the end of the 2017-18 school year, leaving them little time to prepare before students embarked on summer break.
They began recruiting within the school and in six weeks had 25 athletes committed – including three boys.
“We came in with a lot of energy and a lot of excitement and told them it would be an experience they have never been a part of,” Lauren said. “Our energy was contagious and spread throughout the school.”
The rapid growth opened the eyes of administrators, parents and even students around campus.
Senior Annabella Villanueva dreamed of becoming a cheerleader from a young age, but the demanding schedule of competitive volleyball always kept her away.
That is, until her freshman year.
“I played volleyball for years and, honestly, all of my friends kept growing and I just stopped,” Villanueva said. “Before that I danced and I didn’t make the volleyball team my freshman year. I always dreamed of being a cheerleader so I tried it out. I fell in love with it.”
A captain and flyer this year, Villanueva has seen first hand the quick growth of the program.
Team members have become a family, comforting each other during tough times and enjoying time together outside of school.
It’s been a bittersweet experience for Villanueva. She has grown close to her teammates just before she embarks on a new journey next year at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State.
“Even though I have only known some of them for a couple months they’re still my family,” Villanueva said. “It’s honestly been so incredible. The way this program has blossomed this year is so amazing and I am so blessed to be on of this team.”
The family atmosphere has started to bring the entire school together. And now, the team wants to include the surrounding community, as well.
On Saturday, Sept. 22, the Horizon Honors High School Spiritline Cheer Clinic allows boys and girls ages 5 to 13 to experience what it is like to cheer at the high school level.
“It’s good for our kids because we are putting them in a position of leadership,” Lauren said. “They’re all really excited about it.”
Being from Hawaii, Paul instilled the phrase “Ohana,” or “family,” within the program. The kids have bought into that.
The Salomons acknowledge that they have different coaching styles, with Lauren the “hammer” while Paul is the “hugger.” But there is no denying that the two have set up the program for success.
“There is a magic her and I have when we get together and coach,” Paul said. “I always compare it to how Kobe and Shaq used to be.
“I think a lot of people will turn their heads when they see us.”