Pauley carries on family tradition
By Kevin Eckleberry
She gave it her all, and she thought that was enough.
In the spring of 2016, LaGrange High graduate Emily Pauley tried out for the cheerleading squad at Auburn University, and she was one of 15 female finalists for 10 spots.
It wasn’t meant to be.
There were 10 names called out, and Pauley wasn’t one of them.
“I was devastated,” Pauley said.
Pauley shrugged off that disappointment and decided to give it another shot, so she tried out again this spring, and once again she was one of the finalists.
This time, the story had a happier ending.
Pauley’s name was called, and she was officially an Auburn cheerleader, joining a squad that included 10 men and 10 women.
Pauley was on the sidelines cheering for some spectacular moments, most notably the home victories over Georgia and Alabama to close out the regular season.
Pauley wasn’t in Atlanta for the SEC championship game, but she will be on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on Monday against Central Florida.
Pauley, whose parents Mike and Lynn were both cheerleaders at Auburn, said her cheerleading journey this fall has been “incredible.”
“The people on the team have been so awesome,” Pauley said. “It’s the Auburn family. Everybody always say that, but it really is. And then of course for my parents to be there, it’s been even better than I thought. And then this season, at the beginning we just thought it was going to be OK. And then we beat Georgia and Alabama. That couldn’t have gone any better.”
Pauley’s two biggest fans are her parents, who were at every home game this season.
Her little sister Annie, a freshman at LaGrange, was also at many of the games.
Mike and Lynn Pauley, who both graduated from LaGrange High, were cheerleaders at Auburn in the 80s.
Mike Pauley, in fact, was the cheerleading captain when Lynn Pauley made the team as a freshman in 1988.
While they’ve remained supporters of the school and Lynn has worked at Auburn the past few years in the Alumni Center, they hadn’t gone to many games over the years, primarily due to Mike Pauley’s responsibilities as a coach.
He was the basketball coach at LaGrange for two decades, and he’s been coaching for nearly 30 years since he graduated from Auburn.
Mike Pauley is now the athletics director at LaGrange, so without any coaching responsibilities, everything fell into place for he and Lynn to get season tickets to be there for Emily.
It brought back plenty of memories for the two, and Mike Pauley recalled how in essence Emily was being groomed to be an Auburn cheerleader from a young age.
“From the time she was little-bitty, (Lynn) had her dressed in Auburn outfits. She had her dressed in Auburn cheerleading stuff,” Mike Pauley said. “And Lynn is the one that took her to all the dance classes, and she was on a competition cheer team when she was 7.”
Emily was a standout on the LaGrange High competition cheerleading squad that excelled, and Mike Pauley was her coach for three seasons.
After high school, Emily decided to go to Auburn, just as her brother Jake Pauley had done, as well as both of her parents.
Anyone interested in becoming a cheerleader can try out during the spring of their freshman year at Auburn.
Everything seemed to be going well for Emily, right up until the point where her name wasn’t called.
“I was pretty upset, and I wasn’t really sure if I’d do it again,” she said. “It’s always what I dreamed of, so I tried again. And I think it made me appreciate it a lot more.”
Mike Pauley recalls being there for tryouts both years, and the emotions for he and Lynn ran the gamut.
“We stood on that same lawn area in back-to-back years,” he said. “One year she didn’t make it, and we cried. The next year, the same place, her name was the last name called, and we sit there and cry.”
He also remembers being so proud of the way Emily handled the disappointment of not making the team the first time around.
“Emily left the family room, and went up on the stage and found the girls that did make it and she congratulated them,” Mike Pauley said. “And I learned something about my daughter that day.”
Once Emily made the team, the hard work continued.
There is a lot that goes into being a collegiate cheerleader, and the season was a grind.
On certain days, such as the Alabama game when the ESPN Game Day crew was in town, it’s basically an all-day affair for the cheerleaders.
“It’s pretty draining,” she said. “We have practice every night. But it was so fun.”
Emily said one of the joys of being on the cheerleading team this season has been the ability to share the moment with her parents.
“They always show me pictures,” Emily said. “It means a lot (to them).”