Cheerleaders grab 18th national championship

A winning tradition has long been established: now it’s just continuing to grow.

On Sunday, the UK cheerleading team won the Universal Cheerleading Association’s National Championship at the 2010 College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships in Orlando, Fla. It was the Cats’ 18th national championship.

The UK cheerleading team won their 18th national championship title Sunday in Orlando, Fla. It is their third consecutive win. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt | Staff

“It’s great. Every one (of them) is as good as the first time,” said UK head coach Jomo Thompson. “We had some adversity down here — a couple of kids came down with a stomach bug — but we did a near perfect routine, executed really well and I’m really happy with their performance.”

While the No. 2 men’s basketball team is the most popular sport in the state and at UK, the cheerleading team is the most successful. The Cats have won the national championship in 14 of the last 16 years, including three straight.

Thompson said one of the keys to putting together a championship team is recruiting the right people and building a tight knit team. Thompson and the Cats go on a retreat at the beginning of each year. This year they went to the 4-H Camp in Nancy, Ky., the weekend before school started.

“We get kids that are the best of the best from their area,” Thompson said. “Now they have to work even harder to stand out. When you’re surrounded by talented people, you’re not going to slouch. There’s a long legacy of winning here at UK, and you want to keep that going. We’re not always going to win, but we’re always trying to win.”

Thompson is in his eighth year coaching the Cats after serving as assistant coach for three years. Thompson said his team relies on a group effort. He, the assistant coaches and the cheerleaders all help to create the routine.

Thompson said he believes putting the entire staff and team in the process of creating the routine makes everyone more invested in perfecting it.

The team started seriously working on the routine about two months before the championship. Thompson said they worked on parts of the routine throughout the season during the various games at which they cheered.

Thompson started cheering at UK during the 1997-98 school year when the men’s basketball team lost in the national championship to Arizona. And he cheered again the next year when the Cats beat Utah in the National Championship. He said the excitement surrounding the team now is similar to what it was like back then.

“Those were some exciting times, and I feel like the excitement is back,” Thompson said. “Now that we’re No. 2 in the nation, that’s a great accomplishment. That’s the same thing we try to do with the cheerleading team — work hard, make the state of Kentucky proud.”