Freedom High athlete relishes award

Photo courtesy of Hannah Paz

Freedom cheer star Hannah Paz was recently honored with the school’s Kaye Axelgard-Reeves Athlete of the Year award.

When Hannah Paz’s parents wanted to introduce her to sports at around age 3, her naturally strong voice, outgoing personality and love of tumbling made cheer a natural fit.

It turned out to be a good decision.

Paz’s 15-year run in the sport, interrupted only by her entrance into college, has been marked by achievements at every turn.

Her list of Freedom High School accolades alone spans an entire page — the last item arguably the biggest, when she became the 25-year-old school’s first cheer-stunt competitor to win the Kaye Axelgard-Reeves Athlete of the Year award.

“It was so exciting, because I really didn’t think I was going to be in the running, just because nobody from cheer-stunt has ever gotten it,” Paz said.

The 2021 graduate’s myriad of accomplishments speak for themselves.

The four-year varsity cheerleader and varsity competitive cheer stunt team member was named Freedom’s 2018 rookie of the year, 2019 and 2021 MVP and winner of the 2020 most spirited and athletic sportsmanship awards, in addition to garnering All-Bay Valley Athletic League first team stunt team honors in 2018 and 2019.

In addition to cheer, she was also a standout student and school representative: four-time honor roll recipient, three-time community service award winner, two-time North Coast Section Bay Valley Athletic League Athletic Sportsmanship awardee and a team captain.

As she flourished, her teammates often did the same, with the Falcons winning the Universal Cheerleaders Association Northern California championship, the JAMZ state championship and (twice) the Bay Valley Athletic League and North Coast Section stunt championships.

“Hannah has been an amazing athlete during her time at Freedom,” said Freedom Athletic Director Sandra Torres, the school’s varsity cheer and stunt head coach. “She’s been a great role model for female athletics.”

For Paz, the sport came naturally.

Introduced as a 3-year-old in a “mommy and me” class after previously trying dance and gymnastics, that trial run turned into a passion.

She joined the Delta Patriots and East County sideline cheer teams, before progressing to the LEGENDS and California all-star competitive cheer teams, and eventually onto the Freedom squad.

Along the way, she cracked the code to success in the sport: being open-minded, accepting correction and knowing that success often takes time.

But none of it would have been possible without her dedicated parents, coaches and teammates.

“My parents really helped me get to the place I was at by signing me up for private lessons, doing what they needed to do, correcting me every once in a while,” she said. “I owe a lot to them, and then also to my coaches for taking the time out of their day to come support me. And I couldn’t have won without my team.”

Paz, now graduated and headed to the University of Arizona to study nursing, turned down multiple cheer-related scholarship offers and intends to focus solely on her studies.

But her past successes and memories of the sport will remain forever, she said.

“I will miss the escape,” Paz said. “Just going there (to cheer) and working and leaving my whole social life and everything kind of behind — it was a great escape. I will miss all my teammates and everybody. I’ll look back and say this was four great years at Freedom High School.”