Downed cheering squad looks to rise again

By Brian Tucker

There are 15 national championships credited to the UK cheerleading team, eight of which were consecutive wins between 1995 and 2002. The banner that displays them hangs from the Rupp Arena rafters and serves as a reminder of the team’s goals.

On the team’s last campaign, though, the Cats lost their first national championship in four years, placing third in the Universal Cheerleaders Association Championship in Orlando, Fla.

For most teams, receiving a third place trophy and national recognition in front of fellow cheerleaders and fans would be a crowning achievement, but not for the UK cheerleading squad.

“We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and we have a reputation to preserve,” senior Sarah Reagin said.

For the UK cheerleading squad, practicing is different this season. They are not in the shadows of another towering first-place trophy and they will not receive the automatic bid to the championship that reigning champions receive.

They’ll return to the tournament in January trying to gain what was once theirs for years.

The sour taste of defeat has been just the right mix to get this year’s team focused on reclaiming the championship. The squad practices Sunday through Friday, and cheers at football and basketball games. The squad works to bring new talent willing to put in long hours.

“It is definitely the recruiting. We are known around the world. I have traveled to Finland, Chile, etc. to look for cheerleaders,” said Coach Jomo Thompson. “The UK reputation is not only nationally but internationally, and the exposure we get definitely helps.”

Thompson said media recognition has led to UK being put on the level of other nationally recognized cheerleading programs.

“They (ESPN analysts) compared our cheerleading program to the New England Patriots on Cold Pizza and said that we were the better program because of our bigger dynasty,” Thompson said.

That reputation is held up by freshman when they come into the program.

“Being a part of the UK cheerleading team takes a lot of hard work, especially (at first),” freshman Kristen Mulcahy said. “You’ve constantly got that pressure to prove yourself as worthy of being a part of such a big tradition.”

“But I believe it will all be worth it when we win our 16th national title,” she said.