STONINGTON — Natalie Lucy and her husband, John, were never ones to just drop off their children at practice or sit in the stands and watch on game day.
"We were a fairly sports-oriented family," Lucy said. "So that's how I got into coaching cheering and my husband coached football."
Lucy, who started in the sport 30 years ago and has spent countless hours in practice, on sidelines, in gyms and at competitions across the state, has decided it's time to retire as Stonington High's cheerleading coach.
And once again, family is her motivation.
She cares for two young grandchildren during the day and that prevented her from giving the time she believes the Stonington job requires.
"They have to be my first commitment," Lucy said of her family. "I've been at Stonington for a long time. It's time for someone else."
She started coaching in the Pop Warner football cheerleading program in Stonington when her daughter, Kristen, was 7 years old. She also became coordinator of the program. In those days, the program had four teams with 24 cheerleaders each.
Lucy later started working as the junior varsity coach at Stonington High and eventually became the head coach in 1996, missing just one season when she went to Indiana to help her younger sister recover from breast cancer.
She has seen the sport evolve from mostly cheers on the sideline to one that features gymnastics, dancing and elaborate stunts.
"The kids have always worked hard," she said. "I look back and there are some things that we did that were very similar to what we do now. But it has become more advanced. And you have to adapt to what everyone is doing.
"It's more dangerous. To be a good coach you have to know what you are doing to protect the kids. I want to sleep at night. When we are doing something, I want to do it the right way. I always said, 'Practice makes perfect. Just one more time.'"
Lucy said she is a tough coach.
"The kids learned responsibility. If you are going to be late to practice make sure you call. I tried to be as fair a coach as I could," she said. "Grades came first. We always made food baskets at Thanksgiving. I wanted them to learn about giving to others and having an appreciation for what you have."
Lucy has worked as a waitress most of her life. Once again, family was the reason. She cared for her family during the day when her husband worked at Electric Boat and she then went off to work when he came home.
Stonington athletic director Bryan Morrone said Lucy has been a big asset to the school.
"Natalie has coached the Stonington High School cheerleading team with the utmost pride, spirit and respect for the sport and school," Morrone said in an email announcing her retirement. "Her passion for her team is unsurpassed, always mentoring the team for individual success in the sport and in their lives. There are many words that describe Coach Lucy, professional, caring and generous; but above all she has been dedicated.
"Natalie Lucy retires leaving a lasting impression on many former cheerleaders and on Stonington High School."
Lucy said she will miss interacting with her athletes the most. She was also thankful for the support from Morrone and assistant athletic director Manny MacDonald.
What has she learned during her time at Stonington?
"I think I've learned how much I love this town and this area," Lucy said. "We fundraised for our uniforms almost every year. And we raised funds for mats and for those kids that couldn't afford to cheer. And the community has always been so good to us."