Darryl Lyons Talks About Cheerleading

Darryl Lyons, the head coach of the MSU cheerleaders, pom squads and mascots, talked with Gene's Page about cheerleading, including things like the number one priority of his group, what type of guy or girl he is looking for, the process of finding cheerleaders for his squad, scholarship money, competing against the SEC, competing in the cheerleading nationals and MSU's clinics and tryouts. (Part 1 of 3 parts)

What do you consider the number one priority for your cheerleaders?
"The thing that is number one is to support our teams on campus. That is what we are here for."

Is cheerleading for everybody or are you looking for a certain type girl and guy?
"No, it's not for everybody. Just like in football and basketball, there is a prototype in cheerleading. You have to have physically fit guys and girls that are able to be thrown around. The more skills that you do, the more dangerous they become based on your body type. Because of that, you have to have a certain type athlete."

Do you go to high schools to recruit cheerleaders?
"I don't physically go out to watch them at high school a lot. If someone is interested, I'll tell them to send me a videotape. I will also tell them to come to one of our clinics. A lot of kids will come to Enrollment Services and they'll mention that they are interested in cheerleaders. I'll sit down and talk to them and their parents about our program. Then, I'll tell them if they want to go home and put together a videotape that would be great. If they want to come to our clinic that would also be great. I'll then give them a critique based on their tape and tell them what they need to work on."

How does the selection of your cheerleaders occur?
"Over the years, cheerleading has gotten more athletic. A lot of high school squads compete more. And there are a lot of all-star squads across the country and they are starting to get bigger in the state of Mississippi. Out of Jackson, you have Central Mississippi Cheerleading and they won nationals last year with their squad.

"As a coach, I go to as many competitions as I can and as many high school games as I can to see squads to look for outstanding people. For the past few years, I have judged the national championships at Disney World. I work for UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association). Since 1999, I've judged the high school nationals. Last year, I judged the college nationals.

"There were a couple of kids who really stood out at high school nationals. One in particular, McKenzie Youngblood, made our squad this year. I saw her at nationals and called her coach to see if she was interested in coming to State. Coincidently, she was. We emailed back and forth and she came to one of our recruitment clinics. We have recruitment clinics in November and one in the spring. Anyone can come; freshmen, sophomore, juniors and seniors in high school and junior college or any other school transfers. They come to the clinic and show us what they can do and we teach them the material that we do. The top people will be encouraged to come to State."

What kind of scholarship money do cheerleaders receive at Mississippi State?
"As far as scholarships, our scholarship program is pretty low right now. Their first year they receive $400 a semester your first year, $600 a semester their second year and $800 per semester their third year. That is pretty tough but it is better than not receiving anything. We also try to provide the kids that are not on scholarship, like the JV kids, money for camp clothes and warmups."

Obviously, you have to recruit against other SEC schools for cheerleaders. Tell me more about what kind of scholarship money other SEC schools provide.
"The University of Kentucky, who is national champions (almost) every year, give full rides to their varsity. Their advisor, who has been there something like 25 or 26 years, is vice president of the university and was at one time Dean of Students. He receives a lot of money from Student of Affairs and matches that money with what they receive from athletics. That gives them 16 to 18 full scholarships for their varsity squad. The JV squad, like ours, are zero scholarship. The University of Alabama, which is an hour away from Starkville, gives something like $800 to $900 a semester. Even their JV squad receives something like $300 a semester."

Because they give more money to their cheerleaders than you are able to provide, do you rely more on academic money to offset your lack of scholarships?
"When kids call me telling me that they are interested in coming here, I tell them that we don't have large cheerleading scholarship, but if they have a high ACT or good grade point average I tell them that they can get academic money. Those are the kind of kids I want anyway. I want kids that want to go to class and get a good education."

Normally, I don't see male cheerleaders when I go to high school games. Where do you find your male cheerleaders?
"In the past, we have recruited a lot of guys from junior colleges. Now, co-ed cheerleading is strong everywhere. Because of that, I get just as many guys emailing me as girls. Most guys who cheer are former football or basketball players, which means they are athletes. That is where that drive, determination and motivation comes from that makes you want to go to practice everyday."

About once a year, there is a national championship for cheerleading. Is that an event the MSU squad usually competes in?
"Traditionally, we have competed at nationals. We go to UCA Nationals in Orlando, which is televised on ESPN. We competed two years ago and got 10th place. The year before that, I think we got 8th. This year, due to the work ethic and drive and determination that this group of kids have, I feel like we have a chance to do as well or even better. Our goal this year is to get in the top 8."

How do you qualify for the nationals?
"You have to qualify by videotape. We have to send a videotape in by November 3rd that includes a crowd effect cheer that we do in a game, all of our partner stunts, our pyramids, our basket tosses and our tumbling. It is pretty tedious because you have to send in the perfect tape to get a paid bid. They give paid bids to the top five in each region, which provides all of their travel fees. Unfortunately, we are in the SEC which means every year Kentucky is number one, Tennessee or Alabama is usually number 2 or 3. After that, it is usually Central Florida, which is very good. In fact, they won nationals two years ago. We have to compete against all of those teams and we do the best we can."

How many teams usually compete in the nationals?
"In Division 1A there are about 35 teams. They cut it in half when they have the semi-finals. Usually, the top 7 or 8 receive tv coverage. The last time we went we got some but not all of our routine on tv. A goal of ours is to get on tv because the kids watching tv will see us and start thinking about coming here. So, even though nationals is secondary, it is very important in helping you to recruit the kind of kids you need to compete against teams in the SEC."

Tell me more about the clinics and tryouts you mentioned earlier.
"We have the fall clinic in November with the spring clinic in either late March or early April. After that, we have our tryouts, which will probably be in mid-April."

If there are high school or junior college kids that are interested in becoming college cheerleaders at Mississippi State, how can they email you?
"They can email me at dl134@athletics.msstate.edu."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs Bite: Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on TheInsiders.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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