Husband-wife team leads Lufkin cheer, cross country programs

Angela Rodriguez and Stori Thomas, Panther Growls staff members

Hunter Russell, head coach of the cross country team, and Kirstie Russell, the new cheer coach, came to Lufkin High School as a package deal. (Photo by STORI THOMAS/Lufkin High School Panther Growls)

Kirstie met Hunter in sixth grade at Lufkin Middle School. In English class, he sent a note to her that said, “Do you want to go out with me? Check yes or no.” She picked no.

Kirstie and Hunter graduated from Lufkin High School together in 2008. Now they’re married and back on campus. Kirstie Russell has become the head cheer coach, while Hunter Russell is the cross country coach.

After years of back-and-forth, Hunter proposed to Kirstie on Jan. 1, 2017, while on a family ski trip in Colorado.

“It was freezing cold and I remember my tears froze to my face, but it was really sweet,” she said.

Earlier this year, while the pair were in San Antonio, Hunter Russell was offered the head coach position for Lufkin’s cross country team. Kirstie Russell was soon offered the LHS cheer coach and teaching position.

This is Kirstie’s first year back in coaching after being in an administrative position for four years in Oklahoma City.

While in high school, she was in involved in LHS Cheer as well as Student Council, National Honor Society and KYSSED.

As this is her first year back, Kirstie Russell said her plan for the team was to bring back the tradition, structure and reputation that LHS deserves.

“I’m looking forward to a year of really hard work and changing people’s mindset around Lufkin Cheer,” she said.

Hunter Russell was a medical sales representative for three years and a sports performance coach for five years. In high school, he ran track and cross country, and played baseball. He said “helping kids reach their goal” is his favorite part of being a coach.

He said one of the main reasons for returning to his roots was that he wanted to help the community he grew up in.

Hunter Russell said he had high ambitions and expectations for this year’s cross country team. He said he planned to introduce structure into the cross country program, as well as weight lifting.

“I’d like to see my team make it past regionals to state,” he said earlier this year. “I think they can really do that.”

That goal was met Saturday when the LHS cross country team competed in state for the first time since 1995.