ROAN MOUNTAIN, Tenn. (WJHL) – Hailey Simerly didn’t pick up the sport of cheerleading until pretty late in middle school – and she needed a nudge to get going.

“For me, it wasn’t as easy,” she said. “My mom kind of pushed me to start cheer. I was really kind of an outsider, at first.”

As a rising-eighth grader, Simerly stepped out of her comfort zone and onto the mat. Thanks to the encouragement of her coaches, she has fallen in love with cheerleading.

“It’s been a really great part of my life for the last five years,” she said.

For Simerly, showing up to practice feels more like coming home. It’s her favorite part of being on the team.

“I’d say probably the camaraderie and the family aspect of it,” she explained. “It’s nice to have the feeling that you’re looking out for someone, but someone is also looking out for you.”

It’s that type of environment that has helped Simerly grow in confidence and in skill – and it always puts her in a better mood.

“My favorite thing about cheer is I could literally be having the worst day in the whole entire world, and I can come in and see the girls I cheer with and they just put a smile right on your face,” she said.

This season, as a senior leader for the Highlanders, she’s been able to share memories with her friends and teammates that will last a lifetime.

“I love the playoff games,” she said. “Those tight games where the adrenaline is up and you’re on the sidelines and you’re jumping up and down.”

Simerly has also learned important lessons from her time on the team that will sick with her equally as long.

“I just try to be kind to everyone, because without kindness and without friendship, you’re not going to get anywhere,” she said. “No matter how different we are outside or off the mat, we all come together and trust each other and we’re able to really build on that and create a family to where we can come in, be comfortable and be ourselves and just have a good time.”

With wisdom like that, it’s no surprise Simerly is enrolled in the Carter County Middle College Program.

“It taught me kind of how to be responsible for myself, to juggle things and make it work,” she said.

She has excelled in her accelerated classes at Northeast State, all while receiving her certification as a CNA.

There’s just one thing that drives her each day, despite the challenges.

“Just hard work – I mean, if you want it, you’ve got to fight for it,” she explained.

All of Simerly’s hard work has earned her a spot on the Emory & Henry cheer team this coming fall, where she plans to attend school and major in nursing. One day, she would like to work as a labor and delivery nurse – continuing to spread her kindness.

“I love dealing with babies and the interaction with them and just making the mom feel more comfortable, too,” she said. “It’s a stressful situation to be in, so I figure they could use a smiling face.”