BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – Growing up, Viking senior Makayla Leonard wasn’t so sure about being a cheerleader.

“Honestly when I was little, it was something my mom forced me to do,” she said.

Involved with Upward, a Christian youth sports organization, from a young age, Leonard preferred basketball over cheer.

“So I actually stopped cheering,” she said.

A few years passed, but soon Leonard was drawn back into cheer in seventh grade.

“I watched my middle school team, and that’s when it really sparked for me that I wanted to do it,” she said.

It’s what she’s done ever since, cheering each year of her high school career.

“Hitting a new skill is always so much fun, and you get to do it as a team, in a group,” Leonard said. “That’s always a great accomplishment, and I just love being around those people.”

Those people are her teammates and coaches, but with the time and energy they share together, they play an important role in each other’s life.

“We have more of like a family bond – even our coaches, they feel more family than just a coach that tells you what you need to do and everything,” she said. “You feel like you can actually go talk to them.”

Leonard is more than just a member of that family. This season, she’s been named a senior leader, a position she takes seriously – but not too seriously.

“I try every day to walk in with a smile on my face and make it the best day possible,” she said.

Come this spring, Leonard will be out on the diamond playing her senior softball season.

“That one stuck with me since I was little,” she said of her love for softball.

Until then, she’ll remain on the sideline, not only cheering with the varsity squad but the THS Firecracker Squad as well. It’s an all-inclusive spirit squad that caters to special-needs students at the high school.

“It gives them an opportunity to cheer on any sports that they want to,” Leonard said.

From August until the end of basketball season, Leonard serves as one of roughly eight volunteers that instruct and mentor the other students.

“I cheered, so I thought it was a perfect combination because I love teaching them and being around them,” she said.

Helping others find that same passion that she has for the sport is an opportunity she relishes. But, her time with the Firecracker Squad is also perfect practice for what she hopes will be a future career in education.

“It’s all I wanted to do because I want to be a teacher, as well,” she said. “So being able to help people and teach people — it’s what I want to do, so, [I’m] getting a head start on it.”