Hancock County

‘Do it for Emily.’ Hancock cheerleaders won’t forget their sassy captain with big dreams

Hannah Davis thought her friend and fellow Hancock High cheerleader Emily Goss was going to be upset.

It was freshman year, and Hannah and Emily were in the same stunt group, along with Cailynn Gerald and Madison Alligood.

Hannah was a flyer, meaning she’d be the one in the group tossed in the air. Emily was a base, a part of the foundation that thrusts the flyer up and catches her when she descends.

When Hannah was coming down from a toss that day, she collided with Emily’s face.

“I was freaking out,” Hannah, 17, told the Sun Herald Thursday. “I thought she was about to hate me. My elbow just went through her mouth.”

Hannah had knocked out Emily’s front tooth.

“Her mouth was pouring blood. I had to walk her to our trainer,” Hannah said.

But Emily didn’t shed a tear.

“She didn’t even care. She didn’t even cry,” Hannah said.

After the initial shock wore off, in fact, the team started to giggle. It became a joke between the stunt group for the rest of the season — especially after Emily had to wear a mouth guard to protect her tooth that was saved and put back in place.

“She was so funny,” Cailynn said. “She kept the cheer team laughing every single practice.”

Emily was the loud one on the team who always had something to say or a joke to tell. She kept the team in high spirits and was motivated to be the best, her friends and coach said.

Her hard work and spirit paid off. Emily and Hannah were both named captains of the cheer squad for the 2019-20 season heading into their senior year. Hannah and Emily made hangers for the team’s uniforms before summer camp.

But Emily won’t make it onto the field at Brett Favre Stadium in August. She won’t walk across the stage to receive a high school diploma or be in selfies or Snapchat videos with her best friends. She won’t get to participate in senior breakfast in November or cheer at the first pep rally of her senior year.

The 17-year-old from Picayune died July 12 from injuries sustained in a car wreck on Mississippi 43 in Hancock County. Emily was pronounced dead at the scene.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Madison, 17, of Kiln, said. “I had to call my uncle. I broke down. I didn’t know what to say.”

‘We wanted to be together’

When Hancock High assistant cheer coach Lacey Vitalec heard the news about Emily, she felt like she had lost a child, too. Vitalec has been head cheer coach for 8 years. She stepped down to assistant coach for the upcoming season.

“I was just in utter devastation,” Vitalec said. “I just didn’t want to believe it. I’ve known her since she was in 6th grade.”

In the time before the crash, Emily and Hannah were working hard to record cheers on videos and post them online for the team to learn.

The team was on a high point, Madison said, because they had just won the spirit award for the first time at camp.

As news of Emily’s death spread through the community, cheerleaders and their families knocked at Vitalec’s door.

“We wanted to be together that Friday,” Vitalec said.

That night, Emily’s mom, Christina Goss, asked if the team could come over to their house to be with Elise, Emily’s little sister who was also on the team.

“We all prayed and prayed for the family,” Vitalec said.

‘She had goals. She had dreams.’

Emily loved shopping, making funny videos and sleeping over with friends in between cheer and working at a local diner and babysitting.

“Emily was really crazy,” Cailynn said. She loved rap music, hated country music and was obsessed with the sun. Madison said she and Emily would spend a lot of time at the beach so Emily could soak in the rays.

“She was obsessed with being tan,” Cailynn said. “She was also super busy. She had plans with a different friend every single day.”

Emily’s positive spirit helped motivate her friends and the team.

“She wanted to cheer in college really bad,” Hannah said. “She had goals, and she had dreams.”

When it came to cheer, Vitalec said, Emily had been committed since middle school. In addition to putting in work at practice, Emily would take private cheer and tumbling lessons after school or on the weekends.

“You knew off that bat that cheer was her life,” Vitalec said. “She always had the work ethic to keep on going.”

In the middle of junior year, Vitalec asked Emily if she would switch from base to flyer.

At first, Vitalec said, Emily was not comfortable in the air. But she kept practicing.

“She’d have to analyze it, be dramatic, and then she’d do it ... always for the betterment of the team. She became a natural, other than her heel stretch,” Vitalec said with a laugh.

Cailynn and Hannah said Emily didn’t plan to give up cheer after high school.

“I would always ask Emily what college she was going to because I wanted to room with her, but she could never make up her mind,” Cailynn said. “But she always knew she wanted to cheer.”

Emily’s sass is something her friends say will never be forgotten.

At her funeral services at Union Baptist Church in Picayune, Hannah read a letter that Emily had written in 8th grade.

“At one part, she said, ‘My dad is lame.’ The whole church started laughing,” Hannah said.

Moving forward without Emily

Vitalec said she and new head coach Faith Lee are trying to keep practices as normal as possible since Emily’s passing.

Emily’s stunt group is still adjusting to cheering without her.

“It’s been really quiet at weird,” Cailynn said.” At first it will feel normal, but then everyone will realize that we’re missing something.”

As the sole captain, Hannah is now tasked with keeping the team motivated and performing at their very best. She said this year, the team will perform better than ever for Emily.

In the letter Emily wrote in 8th grade, she talked about getting a state championship ring in cheerleading on her high school team.

“I always bring back the letter and tell them, ‘Do it for Emily,’ because she wanted it so bad,” Hannah said.

Vitalec said Hannah made blue bracelets for the team with their new motto in honor of Emily: “All For You.”

“It’s a steady reminder that this is going to be a hard year, but it is going to be a good year,” she said.

Justin Mitchell is the southern regional growth editor for the Biloxi Sun Herald, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and Macon Telegraph. He also reports on LGBTQ issues in the Deep South, particularly focusing on Mississippi.