Rah-rah for resilience: LaGrange College cheerleading program is growing under Joseph

Published 10:05 am Saturday, September 9, 2023

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The LaGrange College cheerleading team is undergoing a revolution. 

Just a few years ago, the team was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuilding looked optimistic at best. In stepped head coach Nicole Joseph in 2021 — a former Panther cheerleader herself.

“I told (LaGrange College athletic director) Terlynn Olds that I was the right woman to rebuild this program,” Joseph said. “I didn’t think it would be that difficult, but I think with the college dealing with COVID, as well as the girls who fly and tumble were not able to really do that here.”

The program has been on a gradual incline with the Panthers fielding a team this season that Joseph thinks will be the best in her tenure.

“They are on a different level than years past,” Joseph said. “They came in ready this year. I sent them the cheers to practice over the summers, and they came in before the main student body and they came in that week ready.

“I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel and at that point I knew that this team was ready.”

This year’s team has worked harder than ever to expand their repertoire on the sidelines. Expect more stunts and more pizazz.

“We want to keep elevating the program to another level,” Joseph said. “Right now, we are between one and two, but we want to get into even more difficult stunts.

“We want to do pyramids, basket tosses, everything.”

Joseph has been able to get her team into Champions Training Academy every Sunday as well as set up weight training schedules and other practices. The partnership with Champions has greatly increased the capabilities of her team.

“It is great because we have one girl who has never tumbled before, so Champions is a big asset for us because the girls are eager to learn,” Joseph said. “That partnership is just wonderful.”

The team consists of 12 members this season — Natalie Ballay, Daniel Cody, Allison Duncan, Catelyn Godfrey, Jasmine Hardwick, Aria Mabry, Isabella Ropoza, Zarie Smith, Kaiyyn Thomas, Christina Walker, Delacey Wilkerson, and Jala Williams. The Panthers will be led by their two captains — Duncan and Mabry.

Duncan, a freshman and Heard County graduate, has been a natural leader for the team despite it being her first year in college.

“I definitely didn’t expect to be named a captain, but I wanted to go ahead and submit an application, because LaGrange College is a big place for opportunities and I saw this as an opportunity to be a leader,” Duncan said.

Duncan is the prototypical type of cheerleader that Joseph is looking to recruit. She is confident, athletic and brings a wealth of knowledge from her 10 years of cheerleading experience.

“I’ve been cheering all together for a little over 10 years now, and I’ve done just about every kind of cheering,” Duncan said. “I have cheered sideline and competition, so I have a deep background with cheer, and I really couldn’t imagine life without it.”

Mabry is the other team captain and she along with ex-football player Cody never imagined themselves being a part of the cheer team when coming to college. 

“This is something completely new for me starting last year,” Mabry said. “I grew up dancing and danced competitively for 10 years. I found a real passion for it.”

Cody suffered a devastating leg injury on the field and was looking for another avenue to use his athletic prowess. He found it with his 11 teammates and Joseph.

Mabry had a background in musical theater and dance while Cody had a background in ballet from his youth. The two have been big additions to the team, especially Mabry, who is going into her second season as a cheerleader at LaGrange College. 

“A lot of them have come to me with questions that they have, not just about cheerleading, but about the college in general,” Mabry said. “It has been really great to watch some of these younger girls really blossom in this environment.”

The first football game is on Saturday and the team is fired up, but the cheerleading team will not start and stop with football season. The program is expanding to basketball games this year and even bigger goals are on the horizon for Joseph and her team.

“This team is based on competing starting in 2024,” Joseph said. “This will be the first time they have ever done competitive cheerleading here.”

The next step in this journey begins on Saturday when the college hosts Berry at 6 p.m. at Callaway Stadium. The fans will get a chance to see a revitalized football team as well as a rejuvenated cheerleading squad right there with them.