DYNAMIC DUO: Stacey Fox and her Daughter, Emma, Join Forces to Keep Union/A-C Valley Competitive Spirit Program Winning

Mike Kilroy

Mike Kilroy

Published January 18, 2024 5:45 am

FOXBURG, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The seniors on the Union/A-C Valley competitive spirit team smile and laugh when sharing stories about their two coaches, Stacey Fox and her daughter, Emma Fox.

(Pictured above, Emma Fox, left, with her mother, Stacey Fox)

“They work together perfectly — even though they fight at practice sometimes,” said Sophia McGarvey, chuckling. “Honestly, I want to give everything to them.”

“Stacey’s my life,” added Hannah Ithen. “My life is Stacey Fox. I was trying to quit one year and I remember talking to her at a baseball game and she’s like, ‘No. You’re not quitting. If you try to quit, I’m putting your name on the roster myself.’ She’s just that type of person. You can count on her for everything. I work in her classroom throughout the day. I’m with her every night.”

“You’re dating her son,” interjects Madison Hurrelbrink, digging an elbow to Ithen’s ribs as the four burst into laughter.

“I think they’re the dream team,” said Kyleigh Morrison. “They talk about how they go home and they watch videos and Stacey lays awake at night thinking about routines. They put in the work and it truly shows.”

The Fox duo is overseeing a dynasty of sorts in competitive spirit.

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Union/A-C Valley has won three consecutive District 9 championships. The first two were in the co-ed division (the first as just A-C Valley). This year, the team won in the small varsity division.

That was a much tougher road to the title. The squad negotiated that journey flawlessly with a clean routine at the district championships.

“I’m especially grateful for this year’s win,” Hurrelbrink said. “It was a lot more challenging the last two years because we had more competition.”

Stacey Fox has been coaching competitive spirit for the better part of two decades. She took a few years off when Emma was competing in track and field and spirit at Slippery Rock University.

Emma was a standout in both sports at A-C Valley. She’s a 2018 graduate.

Stacey took the Falcons to the PIAA championships the first year that competitive spirit was a sanctioned sport in the state in 2013.

“When (Emma) was hired at Union (in August), she became my assistant coach,” Stacey said. “She took over the program there so we could really work well together.”

The two competitive programs have been merged since last season.

Even when Emma was competing, she knew she wanted to be a coach one day.

“I got a job with the National Cheerleaders Association after I graduated high school,” Emma said. “After I started that job, I was a camp instructor. I was coaching instead of cheering and it kind of solidified the fact that I knew I always wanted to coach and that I could do it.”

Emma Fox is still with the NCA to this day. She runs an average of four camps each summer at various locations in the region.

But her love continues to be coaching at Union/A-C Valley.

She and her mother have a good dynamic going.

Sometimes Stacey is the bad cop and Emma the good cop. Sometimes, those roles switch.

“I do think it’s a good mix,” Emma said. “Sometimes I think that they forget that I’m their coach and not just their friend. That’s when I have to kind of be the bad guy and remind them, ‘OK. We can have fun, but let’s take this seriously.’ I do think they respond well to me, especially when they know that I was successful when I was at A-C Valley and then I went to Slippery Rock and cheered in college. A lot of them want to do that. It’s a big deal for them.”

Stacey said she is lucky to have her daughter coaching by her side.

“Sports are a big deal at our house,” Stacey said. “It was really great that she was able to come and help and the girls really respond to her.”

Competitive spirit is certainly not for the faint of heart.

(The Union/A-C Valley competitive spirit team, which just won a third straight District 9 championship)

Practices can be grueling. Routines difficult to master with many moving parts. A misstep could spell disaster for a score — as well as physical health.

For Ithen, who is also a standout on the volleyball court for A-C Valley, as well as in track and field for Union/A-C Valley, competitive cheer challenges her mind and body unlike anything else.

“It’s definitely the hardest of all of them,” Ithen said. “We get hit all the time. Like Stacey says, ‘You’re gonna get booboos. You have to suck it up and get over it.’ And you get booboos every day. You have to have that fight in you. If you don’t have that fight, then it’s not for you.”

Ithen said Stacey and Emma helps them keep that fight.

“Stacey is just the best coach, the best person,” she said. “It’s the same with Emma. They both care about you, not only as an athlete, but as a person.”

Emma, who is in her first year of teaching life skills at Union High School, said sometimes there is a misconception about what competitive spirit is all about.

That’s why Stacey and Emma have a competition camp during the summer so those who are curious can come and see what it is all about.

It’s unlike any other sport, they both said. Hours and hours of practice time comes down to a two-minute-and-30-second performance.

“I always say you have to be on your game. We don’t get a timeout,” Emma said. “We don’t get a halftime. We don’t get to sub players in or out. You have two minutes and 30 seconds to do your best and whatever happens, you have to live with it.”

Union/A-C Valley will compete in the state championships on Jan. 26-27 in Hershey.

Stacey and Emma are already tweaking the routine to try to eke out as many additional points from the performance as they can.

“We preach this to them every night,” Stacey said. “You have to show them you have the ability and right now we’re working on trying to upgrade some skills for states. We did go with a clean routine at districts because that’s what I felt we needed to do to win to move to the next level.”

Emma said they also reinforce that nothing will be handed to them because of their success.

“There’s no such thing as winning too much; however, you can get used to winning and just expect it,” Emma said. “And I always say, ‘You can’t expect anything to happen. Nobody’s gonna give you anything because you’re Union/A-C Valley. You have to go out and work for it. We also want them to know whatever happens, happens and we’re gonna be happy and proud of them no matter what.”

Stacey isn’t sure how long she will continue coaching.

She is happy, though, that one day Emma could be in a position to take over the program and keep it humming along.

“Someday I would like to be able to retire from the program,” Stacey said, smiling. “I want to leave it in good hands and I know Emma — the kids listen to her. This year I’ve been able to take a step back a little bit and let her say, ‘Hey, this is what we need to do. We need to do this.’ It’s a pleasure to coach with my daughter.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and D9Sports.com is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

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