‘Powerhouse program’: A look back at UK Cheer’s 23 championships

The Kentucky Cheerleading team is recognized for their 23rd National Championship during the game against Florida Saturday, January 20, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Florida defeated Kentucky 66-64. Photo by Carter Gossett | Staff

Bailey Vandiver

UK Cheer is “dominant,” says the only person who has been a part of the program for all 23 of its championships.

UK legal counsel T. Lynn Williamson has been the cheer adviser since 1977, so he bore witness to UK’s first championship, in 1985, and every one since.

The Wildcats were crowned national champions for the 23rd time, at the Universal Cheerleaders Association championship on Jan. 14 in Orlando, Florida. UK’s 23 championships in 33 years makes UK the winningest cheer program in UCA history.

In 1984, at the national competition, Williamson said he remembers thinking, “Wow, you know what, we can win this thing.”

Then they did, one year later.

Then, in 1987 and 1988, UK became the first program to win back-to-back championships.

When the Cats won in 1995, they began what would become an eight-year winning streak, which was “an amazing experience,” Williamson said.

“We’ve just become rather dominant,” he said.

The nature of the competition itself has also changed, he said. While the routines have become shorter and more packed with stunts, the experience has grown from a couple hundred people watching in a park in 1985 to thousands of people attending in person in 2018, not to mention millions watching on TV.

People gather just to watch the UK cheerleaders practice, Williamson said.

“Everybody, everywhere recognizes us,” he said.

After UK was crowned as champion, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart tweeted congratulations to the “powerhouse program.”

“It’s special when (the cheerleaders) have the spotlight to themselves, where they prove over and over that UK has the best cheerleading program in the country,” Barnhart said.

Williamson said this season’s seniors are amazing people, on the mat, in the classroom and in general.

“I mean, they’ve gone through this for four years, they’ve won three, so that tells you what kind of competitive athlete and performance people they are,” he said. “But they’re great people, too.”

Whitney Agee, a fifth-year senior on the squad, has won four championships in her five years.

“The cheer program at Kentucky is a dynasty that’s been built up by so many generations of incredible people,” she said. “It’s just unlike any other.”

She said the cheer alumni are still so close to the program; they return and stay involved in any way they can.

“Like everything else at Kentucky, (UK Cheer) gets into your blood and then it never leaves,” she said.

In a Kernel article from Jan. 14, 1987, Williamson told a reporter that “some cheerleading experts have ventured to call UK ‘the most talented athletic cheerleading squad that has ever been assembled in the United States.’”

That was 21 championships ago.