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By LARRY VAUGHT
Owensboroâ€™s Stacy Head, a die-hard Kentucky fan, enjoyed every minute of UKâ€™s national championship run.â€ˆHowever, she was even more ecstatic when her son, Ben, recently found out he made the UK cheerleading squad after a difficult tryout process.
â€œLarry it’s amazing. I have to pinch myself sometimes to know that my son is a part of the most successful Division 1 college program in the United States,â€ said Head. â€œWe are all so very happy to be a part of the UK cheer family and we look forward to the 2012-2013 year. While we are all so proud, it’s business as usual for Ben.â€
Here are some other insights Head shared about her son, who will be a freshman at UKâ€ˆin the fall, making the team that has dominated the national cheerleading championships.
Question:â€ˆHow long has he been training/aiming for this spot on the UK squad?
Head: â€œIn 2001, the UK cheerleaders did an exhibition at a Jamfest event in Evansville, IN. Ben was 7 years old at the time and he was hooked. He convinced his coaches into going backstage so he could meet them. They were all so very encouraging and when he asked if he could try out for the squad. He meant right then! A couple of the cheerleaders told him to work hard and one day he could be a UK cheerleader. That was all she wrote for Ben. He went back to the gym and wanted to start working right away.
â€œIn all these years, he never took his eye off the prize. When he wasn’t studying or training for a competition, he watched videos of the squad to learn what they did and how they trained. When he was 11, he bronze medaled in the Junior Olympics. That in itself was an accomplishment to all of us. If you asked him, he had yet to fulfill his dream. Being a UK cheerleader was what he wanted to do. He loves to get the fans pepped up for a game and cheering for UK gives him the opportunity to do that. Individual sports was not his passion; being a team member and working with other team members is what he loves.
â€œTumbling has always been easy for Ben. I enrolled him in gymnastics at the age of 3 when he was obsessed with Power Rangers. He started flipping off the island in our kitchen onto the tile floor. Once I was able to take a breath after he did it, we went straight to the gym and signed up for classes. I wanted to make sure he learned the right way to tumble and not hurt himself. I had no idea how far he would go with it.
â€œIt was at Kentucky Elite that he began learning how to partner stunt properly. Jason Keogh and Corey Brown, the Kentucky Elite coaches, really brought Ben a long way. Stephanie Johnson, one of his tryout partners, was so patient and I can never properly express my gratitude for all the hard work they accomplished. They worked with him and having cheered for UK, they knew the proper techniques and helped Ben hone the skills and endurance to safely partner stunt. I really believe they contributed a great amount to Ben’s success in making the squad.
â€œOnce Ben was invited to tryouts after attending the fall clinic, he began working with Tyler Matthews, a fitness trainer for strength training and nutrition. He gained 18 pounds of muscle mass by working out, weight training and eating nutritiously. It truly makes a difference when you take time to prepare your food and skip the drive through. He continues to work every day and improves on his strength and stamina.
â€œCoach Jomo Thompson and T. Lynn Williamson are sticklers for safety and proper technique. I believe this contributes greatly to the success of the program. UK is very fortunate to have coaches who are proactive in the cheerleading world and value this.â€
Question: How difficult was the tryout process and was it harder on him or you?
Head: â€œIt was definitely harder on me than it was him. Whenever you see your child going after their dream whether it be academics or sports, the parent takes the role of either celebrating or guiding them to a different direction. Ben takes on challenge with focus. He becomes quiet and soaks in the process. There is no clowning around with him after try outs began. He was practicing and I was searching for that place in my heart to trust his process and be there if he needed me.
â€œThat weekend was as nervous as I have ever seen him. The first tryout going for his dream, he would not say it to any of us, but Momma knows. Thankfully other parents who are veterans at the tryout process are there and they held everyone else up and said encouraging things. The entire organization is a wonderful family to be a part of. We did tell the kids after tryouts were over that we as parents would probably live a lot longer had they chosen to play the piano. â€œ
Question: How proud are you of him making the team?
Head: â€œI can’t begin to tell you Larry how proud I am of him and the team as a whole. The UK cheerleading organization is filled with such a positive atmosphere. For years we watch the cheerleaders at the games and imagined one day that would be Ben. I am so excited to be able to experience that.â€
Question: What role will he have on the cheer squad next year?
Head: â€œBen is on the white squad and as a freshman that is what he was aiming for. The white squad cheers for some of the home football games, and the women’s basketball games. He is most excited about this and the fans he will be meeting. Being a UK cheerleader has so many opportunities and he is ready to start college cheer and get the fans pepped up for the games.â€
Question: What kind of athletic/cheer background does he have?
Head: â€œBen has been a competitive cheerleader since he was 5 years old. He also competed in power tumbling and trampoline for the USGA and tried out for the world team in Colorado. He did some individual cheer competitions and won national championships doing that but his goal doing that was to learn the side line cheer and crowd leading. The high school he attends would not allow male cheerleaders so he found ways around not being able to do that. He has a wonderful principal who used Ben for the pep rally’s and recruiting the football players to participate in the pep rally’s and even taught a few of them to tumble. Ben was also a diver and placed ninth in the Kentuckjy state dive meet this year.â€
Question: Is he a die-hard UK fan like you also?
Head: Absolutely! There’s no easy way around that in my house. He follows all sports at UK, even attending UK softball games. We are blue bloods for many generations. It was fitting I named him after my uncle who started my passion for all UK sports. He is a lot like my uncle was, everyone he meets at a UK sporting event becomes a friend/family member. We are a UK family for many generations to come.â€