An unexpected return to cheerleading was the ticket that brought Elizabeth Angiuli back to her hometown, San Marino.
Angiuli — who graduated from San Marino High School in 2009 as Elizabeth Haralambos — returned to town in 2014 as the coach of the Titans’ cheerleading team, a familiar setting for her after she spent three years with the team as a high schooler. Here to stay, she aims to take the team to less reassuring surroundings moving forward.
“I was never going to stray,” she said in an interview, recalling a conversation with her now-husband on their first date. “I said, ‘Not only will I be in California, not only will I be in Los Angeles, I will be in the 626. [The Pasadena area] is it for me.’”
Like her father — who represents the third generation of the family’s leadership at Industry-based Haralambos Beverage Co. — Angiuli came up at Valentine Elementary School, Huntington Middle School and SMHS. She said she simply fell in love with cheerleading while doing the Junior Titan Cheer program that the high school team puts on annually for younger kids, and joined HMS’ cheer team.
Angiuli started with SMHS’ team as a sophomore (there was no freshman team at the time) and rose to captain in her senior year after being the varsity team’s lone junior the prior season. Meanwhile, she also joined a private competitive team, Pasadena-based Victory Cheer Company, which brought her to the world championship twice during her time there.
“I don’t remember not wanting to be a cheerleader,” she said. “I was practicing and cheering for over 20 hours a week.”
Joining Victory — which has since folded — proved to be something of an epiphany for Angiuli thanks to an attitude that distinguished it from most other competitive teams, which she admitted can get “really gross, really catty and really trashy” at times thanks largely to the overly competitive parents involved. Her coaches emphasized “caring about the person, not just the athlete,” a mindset she has adopted in her blossoming coaching career.
“Most of the competitive cheerleading in this country, it’s kind of a grungy environment a lot of the time, and Victory was a really wholesome Christian organization, and I had such a high standard with coaching staffs from that,” she explained.
Angiuli can also forever say she was an NCAA Division I cheerleader, but you’re unlikely to hear her talk about her year in that capacity at Loyola Marymount University. She found her coach, who ultimately was fired, to be a significant downgrade from the mentors in her younger days and that caused her to lose her mojo, so to speak. Angiuli said she’d previously been contacted about helping out the Titans’ team, but it was after she decided to pull the plug on graduate school at LMU that she truly had an opportunity to take up the mantle once again.
“I was just too miserable and it was too much money to be miserable,” she said of grad school. “I was sort of in a transitionary period at that point, and somebody called me and said the cheer coach had quit. At that point, I was finally like, ‘I can do it.’ I was commuting from the Westside for the first two years and that was gnarly. Leaving at 7 o’clock to get back to Marina del Rey was something else.
“I remember my coach in high school saying, ‘You’ll be doing what I do one day,’” Angiuli added. “I remember just kind of laughing, but I had no idea what was in front of me that day.”
Angiuli eventually returned to living in town in 2016, where she and her husband welcomed their first son (whose due date was the same day as the 2017 Homecoming Game) and where she maintains her “side hustle,” a custom stationery business, Chaucer Road Paper.
As a coach, Angiuli said, she emulates the attitude that helped shape her when she was her students’ ages and focuses on teaching them how to be adults as much as hyping up the crowd over a game-winning field goal.
“At the end of the day, they graduate just generally a better person,” she said proudly. “It’s not just about the academics or the athletics — it’s about the whole person. I’m not just teaching them the ‘Let’s Get Spirit’ cheer. My favorite part is teaching them how to communicate as an adult, how to be responsible. That’s my priority, just trying to educate these girls on a much more macro level.”
This spring, Angiuli tried something new to help her girls escape what has always been “cheer purgatory” in the absence of sports traditionally complemented with cheer squads. Stunt, a sporting competition created by USA Cheer, tests cheerleading squads on their technical ability and performance, with the crowd-leading element removed. She said the sanctioned sport was created as an avenue for cheerleaders, as student athletes, to compete among themselves outside the private circuit.
The SMHS team did not compete this year, but after a spring season of study and practice, Angiuli said she hopes to take the squad to competitions next year.
“We definitely weren’t ready to have any games,” she said. “We were just too fresh. It was a learning year. That’s my cheer goal right now. It’s really cool. The girls had a lot of fun doing it. San Marino is very traditional and change is very jarring, but the girls had a lot of fun and I think are really looking forward to it next year.”
Angiuli said her journey back to her hometown to coach the sport she loved as a girl, was a blessing that, at the same time, highlights the struggle lifelong athletes face once they pass their prime.
“I just love being back in San Marino, being back on campus and just being a part of the community,” she said. “Part of me wishes that the sport I fell in love with is something like golf or tennis that you can continue forever. You can go pick up and play soccer in the park as an adult, or basketball. There’s no such thing as pickup cheerleading. A gymnast would probably say the same thing once they retire. It’s such a big part of who you are. That was such an identity crisis for me. I was cheering 20 hours a week. It was a priority. Cheer came first for me. I was so lucky at the time that I was a naturally good student.
“Once I started coaching, it’s all come back to me now,” Angiuli said. “I just don’t do it for the money at all. I’m so grateful to be able to go. It’s my happy place.”