From Tumbling to Teaching: Jenna Freytag’s Athletic Journey

Physical education teacher and coach Jenna Freytag shares how her unique athletic background has shaped her approach to teaching.

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By Ibtida Khurshed

Since her youth, physical education teacher Jenna Freytag knew that she was the sporty type. Still, the search for a sport she enjoyed enough to dedicate her time to proved to be quite a lengthy process. “I decided to try out for every single sport possible offered by my middle school, so volleyball, basketball, soccer, all the traditional sports, and I was awful at them all, probably because I did gymnastics for the whole beginning period of my life,” Freytag recounted. Fortunately, Freytag’s early passion for gymnastics, a sport not offered at most schools, helped ease her transition into the sport she did end up pursuing.

It wasn’t until eighth grade that Freytag discovered her athletic calling. “I was eligible to try out for the cheerleading team, and from the skills that I learned in gymnastics, I adapted pretty quickly to cheerleading,” Freytag explained. Many tumbling skills taught in gymnastics can also find a place on the sidelines of a football game, and cheerleading allowed Freytag to develop a deeper knowledge of both sports. Thus, even during her time as a cheerleader, her passion for gymnastics never wavered. “I actually went to community college for two years once I graduated high school [and] ended up coaching gymnastics for those two years,” Freytag said. “I was still able to access the equipment to keep my skills up. [...] After those two years, I transferred to Syracuse [University] and I ended up trying out for the cheerleading team there. Just because I was able to work on my skills [during those two years in community college], I ended up making the team.” Freytag’s journey to becoming a college cheerleader demonstrates the power of perseverance and preparedness when pursuing one’s dreams.

College cheerleading especially appealed to Freytag because it exposed her to new perspectives and opportunities. “I was able to experience a lot of different things. I was able to meet new people and travel; I think that was a huge part of it,” Freytag recounted. “And then also being able to still stay physically fit. I was forced to work out, forced to go to practice, and those were good things.” 

Though cheerleading introduced her to new places and communities, Freytag also saw it as a way to honor her roots. “Being able to represent my small-town community just outside of Syracuse by being a cheerleader and seeing a lot of people from my hometown was really special to me,” Freytag said. 

Freytag has many positive memories from her time as a college cheerleader but also acknowledges the grueling nature of the sport. “The practices and competition part of [cheerleading] is a little more physical than a lot of people think,” Freytag pointed out. In addition to the rigorous training, cheerleaders can experience emotional exhaustion at games, as they must perform high-energy routines while maintaining bright smiles and keeping the crowd engaged.

Freytag also commented on the difficulty of living up to the “student” part of student-athlete. As a college student, she had to not only stay on top of classes and studying but also be a cheerleader, which entailed going to regular practices and games. “I also had a job during that time, so working, practices, academics, just finding the time to fit all that and also having a social life and sleeping and eating [was difficult],” Freytag commented. “The things that [Stuyvesant students] struggle with right now are the things I was trying to figure out in college.” 

Freytag acknowledges the never-ending challenge of maintaining a work-life balance, especially in her professional career. “Even though I’m a physical education teacher and a [girls’ gymnastics, coed stunt, and cheer] coach, it’s hard to find the time to fit in activity and exercise [for myself],” Freytag explained. She appreciates the rigidity of high school and college cheerleading and how it held her accountable for regular exercise during those years. “Now that I’m older, I’ve obviously graduated, it's been a little bit more difficult to find time to stay active,” Freytag said.

Freytag’s experience as a cheerleader has also greatly influenced her role as a physical education teacher. “My approach to teaching is to not always focus on the more traditional sports,” Freytag said. “I wasn’t a kid that was interested in traditional sports, so [I want] kids to know that there are other activities out there besides the ones they commonly see.” Though she no longer trains in the sport, Freytag teaches her students gymnastics skills as one cycle of the regular physical education curriculum.

Aside from fitness skills, Freytag hopes to impart to her students the lessons she learned on her college cheerleading journey about the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone. “If you’re a little bit anxious about trying [something], or if it’s not something that you’re too familiar [with], just do it. The worst that’s going to happen is they say no, and it’s not the end of the world,” Freytag said. “Putting yourself out there and trying is all you really can ask of yourself, and then go from there and see what happens.”

Freytag’s ultimate objective is to help her students adopt a positive mindset and encourage them to be open-minded when exploring new experiences. “I always tell the kids this: do your best, try your best—that’s all I can ask from you. And if you never want to do it again once you leave this space, you don’t have to,” Freytag related. “[Give] everything in life a chance—a valid chance.” Even if her students don’t pursue athletics in the future, Freytag hopes that she can instill a spirit of adventure that will drive them forward for years to come.