At the end of the 1978 spring semester, it was time for me to go through my first tryout process. Actually, we had tryouts for two squads, but the second tryout process was in the fall semester. In April, we selected five couples for the Wildcat squad. I decided to increase the size of the squad from five to six couples; several SEC squads were now six couples. Then, in the fall, we had tryouts for the Lady Kat squad. Since I had the vision of using the cheerleaders more in a public relations role, I decided to add some emphasis in the areas of the interviews, appearance, and enthusiasm. I raised the total of the scores in those areas. Two former cheerleaders were on my first panel of judges. They were Darlene Silvestri and Cathy Crum Bell. That was the beginning of a long-time judging relationship. Although Cathy, as a school teacher and then senior administrator in the Fayette County School System (now retired), has managed to let high school spring vacation take her away from tryout judging a few times, Darlene has only let a world tour to one or two exotic places take her away. In today’s world, you cannot buy loyalty that great. I believe Cathy has judged 20 of the last 28 tryouts and Darlene has judged 26 of my 28 years!
When the scores were all in, I announced the members of the 1978-79 squad. The female members were Barbara Betts, Somerset, KY; Dana Emberton, Edmonton, KY; Cathy Caudill, Louisville, KY; Renee Mussetter, Russell, KY; and Julie Welter, Ashland, KY. The male members of the squad were Bill Blount, Lexington, KY; Jeff “Sonny” Collins, Lexington, KY; Jeff Fossett, Frankfort, KY; Dan Kendig, Ft. Mitchell, KY; and Richard Polk, Louisville, KY. It was a young and enthusiastic group. After a couple weeks, I added a sixth couple; I asked Darrell Fisher to return to the squad for another year, and I moved Jennifer Parks from the LadyKat squad to the Wildcat squad. Renee, Darrell, and Dan, became the team leaders, and I would have never have made it through the first full year of cheerleading without them.
Only five squad members from the previous year returned. A month or so after the beginning of the fall semester, Julie Welter decided that she was in love and wanted to spend more time with her fiancé; thus, she left the squad. I moved Paula Sumner from the LadyKat squad to the Wildcat squad. Renee Mussetter, Darrell Fisher, Bill Blount, and Dan Kendig were my four returning members. Renee and Dan were elected captains and became truly my two squad leaders. Together, we made significant changes in virtually every aspect of the program. For years, I advised new cheer coaches that their most difficult year would be their first year. The first year, all of the cheerleaders suspect that the new person does not know much and they respond to any change with their favorite phrase, “We have always done it this way in the past.”
Wildcats Need Tryouts Too
Sometime before tryouts, a guy named Terry Barney stopped by my office. He told me that he wanted to try out for the Wildcat mascot position. Director of Athletics Cliff Hagan had decided to create a “human” mascot in the 1976-77 season. Gary Tanner had been an alternate member of the cheer squad and Gary stepped into the mascot position. Although he had no official mascot training, he was a perfect fit for the role. Having been an alternate to the cheer squad, he knew cheerleading. He was clever, funny, animated, and he loved the role. Gary had just assumed the role; there had never been tryouts for the mascot. But once Terry expressed an interest, I felt the only fair thing to do was have a tryout process. I really felt that, as good as Gary was in his role as mascot, there was little or no likelihood that anyone could beat him out.
Thus, I created a mascot tryout process. The process was (1) a five minute interview by the judges with the two candidates and (2) a three minute performance by each of the two candidates. The three judges conducted the interview process; the candidates were fairly close, although Gary was given a slight edge. During the performance portion, Terry ran around the Gymnastics Room, played football and basketball (as a lone player), danced a little, played around, and acted a little crazy. He was athletic, clever and funny. Gary decided to use his performance time in a different way. Wearing the Wildcat mascot suit, he walked in the Gymnastics Room. He stood in front of the judges. One of the female members of the squad stood with Gary in front of the judges and read a statement that Gary had prepared. The statement expounded on the highlight of Gary’s career as UK Wildcat mascot. The statement praised Gary’s career, but Gary stood by the cheerleader as she read and showed the judges no performance. When the scores were calculated, Terry Barney became the second person to be the Wildcat mascot.
Camp in Tennessee
A relatively new company to the cheerleading instruction world was the group known as Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA). Jeff Webb, Kris Shepherd, Becky Reginelli, and others who had been instructors for Lawrence Herkimer’s National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) had different ideas about where cheerleading should be going. They founded UCA and began with their corporate headquarters in Memphis. Darrell Fisher had worked for them for a couple years. Several of the squad members pointed out to me that, in prior years, only the two captains went to college camp. I recall that prior to the fall 1977 semester, Steve Green and Cheri Davis had gone to NCA camp in Knoxville. I received the brochures for the NCA college camp in Knoxville and the UCA college camp at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN. It appeared that we were going to camp in Tennessee, and it really made no difference to me where we went. Darrell strongly encouraged me to take the squad to camp. With Renee’s and Dan’s concurrence, we announced at tryouts that attending camp in the fall was mandatory.
Two weeks before classes began, we went to UCA camp at ETSU. We did not know the “ways” of camp, but we had a great time. And, most importantly, I saw the importance of camp. The squad grew together; they bonded. But they significantly improved their skills. Further, the UCA philosophy seemed to fit perfectly with my evolving cheerleading philosophy. We returned home with some trophies and were ready for football.
Football in the Bluegrass
After attending the College of Agriculture’s Alumni Picnic, it was time for football in Commonwealth Stadium. The first football game of the season was the UK-USC game in Columbia, South Carolina. It was my first away football trip. I recall flying Piedmont; the pilot permitted the cheerleaders to come up front and view the cockpit—-how things have changed in the world of flight! On this trip, I meet our long-time, loyal supporters, Ralph and Mary Ann McCracken. I happened to be seated next to them on the charter plane. They said that their daughter, Margaret, was a roommate of one of the cheerleaders, Jennifer. They wanted me to introduce them to Jennifer. Ralph and Mary Ann traveled to virtually all away football games and they soon became dear friends of everyone on the squad. We met the USC cheerleaders after the game; I recall the UK cheerleaders performing a line-dance that they had learned at camp on the dance floor!
On the second away game, we traveled to Washington, D. C. for the UK-Maryland game in College Park. We stayed in Washington on the Potomac and spent as much time as possible seeing the sites of Washington. I recall renting a minivan and we moved from one D.C. memorial to another. We stopped in a McDonald’s for a late Saturday night snack. While Terry Barney enjoyed the attention of an overly-friendly female, he managed to get his pocket picked! As we drove past a corner on K Street, one of the friendly “ladies of the night” decided to open the door and climb in the car. The small town, Kentucky kids were a little freaked out!!
Shirley Blount, mother of squad member Bill Blount, owned Commonwealth Travel Agency. Her husband, Bill, Sr., assisted with travel for Athletics and headed up charters to away UK football games. Bill and Shirley were extremely generous to the cheerleaders and assisted in every way possible. Later, their daughter, Jane, joined the squad and they became one of the few, if not the only brother-sister combination that were on squads during my tenure as Advisor. I recall that one evening for dinner, so that the cheerleaders could experience truly nice dining, Bill arranged for two or three cheerleaders to sit at a table of UK alumni who picked up the tab for dinner. I recall that Terry Barney and I sat at the table with Allen and Georganne Barnes who were later supportive of Terry, in particular, and the UK Cheer Program.
Typical of their support, on Sunday morning after the UK-VPI (Virginia Tech) game in Blacksburg, Mr. and Mrs. George Stamatis loaned their car to Dan Kendig so that he could attend church. The Stamatises were retired and travel to all away football and basketball games. We enjoyed their friendship on many road trips. When we flew to away games, we were “stuck” in a hotel. Often the Stamatises would go to dinner early and then lend us their car. We would pile in it for dinner and then other places we wanted to go—usually a party given by the opposing cheerleaders.
Basketball and the Return of the SEC Tournament
The 1978-79 basketball season ends with the rebirth of the SEC Tournament. The SEC had let basketball teams’ records determine conference championships for several years. Since UK dominated the championships and dominated the invitations to the NCAA Tourney, the SEC decided to reinstitute the SEC Tournament. The tourney also served as a moneymaker. The tournament was in Birmingham. One of the most memorable SEC Tourney games was the 101-100 victory of UK over Alabama. However, UK could do no better than second place, losing the championship game to UT. The tourney was at the Birmingham Civic Center, and the small, but adjoining Hyatt (not a Regency) was THE place to stay. It was truly a fight for rooms since everyone wanted to stay next door to the facility.
Let the Competition Begin (Almost)
During the previous spring semester, more than one person mentioned to me that they had seen a college cheerleading championship program on CBS TV. Although the Kentucky high school cheerleading organization (KAPOS) had long held high school championships, and UCA was getting in the business of high school championships, I was certainly unaware the college cheer squads competed. I looked into this college cheerleading championship. There was a CBS-TV program. The program was by Brad Marx Productions. The International Cheerleading Foundation (ICF) out of Kansas City was the “sponsoring” cheer organization. We decided to submit a film for entry. Our film finished 7th; we were pleased. However, only the top five squads went and performed at the TV competition. We vowed that we would be back next year!
But before we had time to think about next year’s competition, it was April and time for tryouts for the 1979-80 squad.
The 1978-79 Kentucky Cheerleading Squad:
- Barbara Betts
- Bill Blount
- Cathy Caudil
- Jeff ‘Sonny” Collins
- Dana Emberton
- Darell Fisher
- Jeff Fossett
- Dan Kendig
- Renee Mussetter
- Jennifer Parks
- Richard Polk
- Paula Sumner
- Terry Barney