Q+A: Tracy Wilkins-Dickerson, PS 307 Diamonds
Tracy Wilkins-Dickerson is the Coach of the PS307 Diamonds Cheerleading team. For the past 25 years(!), Tracy has been coaching and mentoring young women, teaching them life skills both on and off the field. In recognition of Tracy's enormous contributions to her community and DUMBO, we honored her with a 2019 Magic Feather Award this year. We met up with Tracy at cheer practice to learn a little more about her, her history with the Diamonds, and hear about some of her favorite memories from her decades of coaching.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you started coaching?
I grew up in Farragut Houses, and all my children attended P.S. 307. A cheer team was started in 1992, but coach retired when their daughter graduated. My husband was coaching the basketball team at the time, and my daughter, who was in sixth grade, bugged me to take over. I ended up falling in love with cheerleading and the girls. PS307 has given a lot to my family, and this was my way to give back.
What in particular sticks out to you over 25 years of coaching?
One thing I find is that the girls have no idea how talented they are. They’ve never been exposed to cheerleading or tumbling, and they come in not knowing much, but they end up surprising themselves and me. We went to Nationals in 2008, and again in 2017 where we placed 6th overall! Seeing their faces and watching them progress, keeping them busy and out of the streets, are the biggest highlights of coaching.
Being in the school, I’ve seen these girls change, become mentors to the younger kids, and gain pride in being leaders on their team, in their school, and within the community.
Tracy Wilkins-Dickers- Coach, PS307 Diamonds
How has coaching impacted you?
It’s impacted me greatly; the girls have given me a purpose. I am a married mother of 5, and love my children, but even as they get older, I still have these girls that look up to me. I get all these hugs in school; they try so hard to do the right thing so it just gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
It's bigger than cheerleading. We've had a few girls who have suffered deaths in their family. A handful have lost their moms over the course of this program/ Cheerleading helps to fill a void. While you could never replace their mom, it gave them something in those difficult moments. So it feels like something I’m definitely supposed to be doing.
How has your experience changed over the years?
My co-coach, who I previously coached as a student, thinks I’ve gotten softer. “You were so hard on us!” she says! But I think I’ve gotten harder! And we've really progressed in our style and technique. We’ve advanced, we have gotten very competitive, and that’s where the big changes are noticeable: getting the choreography down, and being like the big teams.Now I take the girls to the UCA camp in the summer. For some of them, it's their only chance to leave home–being in the Adirondack Mountains for four days is a big deal for them.
What are you most proud of as a coach?
I think I’m most proud of The Diamonds going to Nationals, and of all the girls that leave and go on to college to cheer or coach. I’m also proud of the girls that come back to help me. This isn’t a paid position, I just love it. So when I have girls who are in school or have busy lives but still find time to come back and give back to the next group, it means a lot to me and The Diamonds.
Do you have any Favorite memories?
So many amazing memories! I like the little things. I recently got a note from one of the girls. Just a random girl thanking me, saying “I have friends now”. And that stood out to me, because this is a big school, but she really feels a sense of belonging with the team. Those things stand out, little notes, or just a hug. I just feel appreciated, and sometimes in the regular workday you don’t feel that.
This is a big school, but these girls really feel a sense of belonging with the team.
What is the most valuable element of what you do in a community building sense?
I actually see this as character building, because I really hold them to a standard. If you’re struggling academically, I’m not going to kick you off the team, but I will want to see your report card. I’m building character, I’m trying to teach them life skills, not just cheering. When they have issues at school, they have the skills to deal with it.
Another part of it this is the service aspect, like participating in the Breast Cancer Calk and raising money for different causes. Thinking about others and community is a big thing. Being in the school, I’ve seen these girls change, become mentors to the younger kids, and gain pride in being leaders on their team, in their school, and within the community. It's incredible.