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Stacy Danielson Lives On
New Middle School Adopts Name of Beloved Former Dance Coach
December 15, 2018
That’s just the way Stacy was.
These 23 characters form a message that countless parents, friends and Celebrities have expressed about their former director, Coach Stacy Danielson, who passed away from colon cancer in July.
For 17 years, Danielson led the Celebrities through practices, pep rallies, football games and competitions, impacting thousands since she began her education career.
This year is the team’s first without their beloved coach, and while it has been far from easy, Thursday night gave the girls and the community a sense of closure.
While the Celebrities were putting on their annual winter show, The Holidays at Cedar Park, a group of Danielson’s friends and former dancers attended the Leander ISD school board meeting. Four people spoke regarding the naming of the ninth middle school in the district, giving their testimony as to why Danielson’s name should be chosen out of a list of seven. At 9:05 p.m., just around five minutes after the Celebrity performance came to a close, the board voted unanimously to name the new middle school after none other than Stacy Kaye Danielson.
As the news spread from the meeting room through phone calls and excited text messages, it soon reached the Celebrities. Their first lieutenant, senior Jenna McQueen, was in the locker room with around seven others when a dancer ran in yelling that “D got the school.”
“We all just started screaming in the locker room, it was amazing,” McQueen said. “We were purely ecstatic, just screaming at the top of our lungs for five minutes straight. It was so joyful and happy, the happiest we have been.”
One week before this, when LISD released a list of proposed names that would be discussed at the meeting, parents saw an opportunity to help keep Danielson’s legacy alive. When they saw her name on that list, nothing could stop them – not even the fact that the meeting date fell on the girls’ performance night.
Within the next week, one of the dancer’s moms, April Orr, helped gather over two dozen handwritten notes and emails and to present to the board.
“As soon as I realized a naming decision was on the agenda for this week’s meeting, I started looking for a way to ensure students, alumni and friends could leave their impact,” Orr said.
After Orr received all the letters, with the help of parents and the new Celebrities director, Nikki Evans, she headed to FedEx to create eight copies that she would hand to Superintendent Dr. Dan Troxell and the seven board members before the meeting. Danielson’s large outreach and impact were shown among the letters written by current and former Celebrities, her fellow Kilgore College Rangerette alumnae, co-workers, the Celebrities’ family members, her parents and even her two sons who are 12 and 10 years old.
To represent the thoughts of everyone who submitted letters, a select group spoke at the meeting to express why Danielson should be chosen, including her former student Madison D’Ortona, who is now the dance director at Manor High School. Just as the number of letters showed, D’Ortona said that Danielson’s impact reached much farther than her dance gym.
“Stacy Danielson built more than a dance program,” D’Ortona said. “She created a home and safe place for those who didn’t have one. She built a family that any alumni can turn to at any time in their life, and she built up students who thought they couldn’t amount to anything.”
Several of Danielson’s former dancers pursued teaching careers, along with careers in STEM, social work and nursing, according to D’Ortona, who said that her coach always pushed the girls to follow their dreams. D’Ortona said that naming the school after Danielson would not only be a recognition of her beloved coach, but also a tribute to every teacher who has impacted their students like Danielson did.
“Name this school for every teacher who changed your life,” D’Ortona said. “For every choir director who pushed you to hit the high note, for every theatre director who pushed you to stand in front of a crowd, for the art teacher who taught you so much more than paint and charcoal, for the band director who never let you settle for second best, for every coach who never gave up on you – that is what Stacy Danielson stands for, that is why this school gets her name.”
During her speech, D’Ortona said something that seems to resonate with everyone who worked to keep her legacy.
“Naming a school after Stacy Danielson will create a tangible place for all the intangible things that Stacy taught thousands of students: love, compassion, humility, fearlessness and strength,” D’Ortona said.
Throughout Danielson’s two years of chemotherapy, she did not miss one practice, football game or performance, which dancers often use as an example to describe how stubborn and selfless she was. Celebrity captain, senior Caiti Dodge, said that Danielson wanted the best for everyone she met and that her selfless personality left a permanent impact on her and the team.
“D is easily the most influential person in my life,” Dodge said. “Not only was she a role model for how I have to lead this year with Celebrities and how I should treat others, but really just how to live life. She was always positive and put the team first, she always put us first before herself, no matter what.”
Also on the mic Thursday night was Danielson’s father, Kirk Lawrence, who spoke about the day in 2016 that his daughter was diagnosed with cancer. He said that she seemed to have an unexplained stomach bug, but after getting a colonoscopy, the doctor told Danielson that even without lab tests it was obvious to him that she had a cancerous tumor. When the doctor told Danielson that she was not allowed to drive that day because of her anesthesia, she quickly responded asking if she could drive the next day. The doctor looked confused, but told her that she could. She explained to the doctor saying how that was good, because the next morning at 7:30 a.m., she would have to be at the LISD bus barn to pick up a suburban to drive her officers to camp in Fredericksburg.
“The look on the doctor’s face was, ‘Wow, I just told Stacy that she had a large, cancerous tumor blocking her colon that needs immediate attention, and she’s worried about getting her students to officer camp,’” Lawrence said. “That’s just the way Stacy was. For 17 years at Cedar Park, she always put her students first. Now, we can’t bring Stacy back, but by honoring Stacy by placing her name on a school, I think that would allow Stacy to continue putting her students first.”
The new middle school is planned to be built across the street from Glenn High School and will open in 2020. Katie Reeves, a former first lieutenant of the Celebrities and a former Rangerette, is the current dance director and creator of Glenn’s first dance team, the Guardians.
Former Celebrity Shannon Soh spoke at the meeting and mentioned Reeves, as she said that Danielson was a community hero and mentor who helped her students follow their passions.
“From her students, to band, to cheer, to the lunch lady and her colleagues, and everyone’s family, she made you feel like the most special person in the world,” Doh said. “A love like that can change everything, it can change the direction of someone’s life.”
In the months that followed her passing in July, the Celebrities and their new director – who joined the team just last year as Danielson’s assistant director – have tried their best to recover as they strive to meet their full potential. Dodge said that because of the legacy she left on all of their hearts, the team is often able to look past the fact that she is not physically with them during their morning practices. However, Dodge tearfully said that during a team dance at iDance in October, the presence of Danielson was stronger than ever.
“One show we really felt it, we did a contemporary dance for her at iDance, and there is just that chorus part and we all felt it,” Dodge said. “I have never felt anything like that from a dance, and you just know it was because she was there.”
Dodge said that as she leads the team through the year, she notices how they have been brought closer together – something she is sure Danielson would have wanted for them.
“She instilled love in a way that you just want to radiate it, you want to be there for each other and you want to be completely selfless,” Dodge said. “Knowing the love that she had and how she was so accepting for everyone is a message that I think could really translate well into a middle school. I think naming the school after her is such a great legacy to leave.”
Between Danielson’s almost two decades worth of teaching, along with her work on the Rangerettes dance team, people in and out of the community have seen up close what it means to be a selfless leader and friend. In just two years, Danielson’s legacy will no longer be only in the hearts of who she met, but it will be implanted in the community for years to come.