Skip to main contentSkip to main navigationSkip to footer content
Alumni | Athletics | FeaturedMarch 29, 2024

UAFS Cheer Builds Up Champions

Written By: Dr. Judith Hansen

With national-level competition just a month away, UAFS cheer head coach Branden Gregory is ready for the event.

Gregory, who cheered for Westark College and the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, said he is proud to be part of the Lions tradition.

The UAFS cheer team has won 4 NCA Nationals Championships:2015, 2017, 2018, and 2022. When the team heads to Daytona for next month's competition, it will be the 14th season in a row.

"We are proud to represent our area and university at this level," Gregory said.

Curtis Janz, athletic director at UAFS, recently explained how he sees cheer as part of the athletic program.

"Cheer has a vital role in supporting all other athletic programs," he said. "As far as being student-athletes, they are an impressive group, and their dedication to their sport rivals any other program.

"We are coming up on their season this spring. It's a time when they have to flip the switch from being supporters to being competitors. Teamwork is as vital to what they do as it is for any other program at UAFS," Janz said.

The team’s work at home is as important as its competition.

"Being part of our campus activities and supporting our athletic teams is a priority for this team," Gregory said.

"We cheer at all home volleyball and basketball games," he said. "We love our gameday experience and helping elevate our athletic teams by creating a positive atmosphere at the games."

The team also mixes with the larger River Valley community. "We attend several community events and volunteer. It's great for the team to get out in the community and connect with people," he said.

Team members also welcome people from the community into their den.

"We host a lot of cheer events in the Stubblefield Center," Gregory said. "We are proud to host cheer camps for local youths and junior high cheerleaders. Alongside our camps, we host several skills clinics that allow high school athletes from all over to come to see our university and learn from our team."

Those camps and clinics are important to members of the team.

Abby Baker is proud of the group's achievements.

"I am a competitor, and UAFS cheer has given me the privilege to compete at the national collegiate level in Daytona, Florida," Baker said. "I'm honored to be a Lion and part of a four-time national championship team."

Kylie Cumbie has been cheering since she was 5. Joining the Lions squad allowed her to continue her cheerleading career into college.

"I have spent the last two years as captain and co-captain for the squad. This leadership has allowed me to learn how to motivate others and what it really means to be a leader," she said.

"It was important for me to know that my contributions in terms of skills, leadership, and teamwork would be a strength and resource to my team."

Cheer also helped her in other parts of her life.

"Being a Lions cheerleader has taught me about serving others," she said. "From cheering on my peers playing volleyball and basketball to mentoring young girls who aspire to be college cheerleaders one day, my time with the squad has helped me to serve my community in so many ways."

Skills camps, recruiting trips, and competitions allow Gregory to see what the UAFS name means beyond western Arkansas.

"Here's what you all here can't see," Gregory said. "I can walk into a place six hours away, wearing one of our T-shirts, and people say, 'You’re UAFS. You guys are good. You’ll definitely be at the top.’ Our name is out there in the cheer world. Does that get us any extra students? Yes, absolutely! In the past, our team was composed of only local athletes. This season, we have athletes from all over the tri-state area.”

This year’s team has 25 student-athletes. They practice all year, but the spring is their busiest time.

“In December, right before finals, we bring in a choreographer from Savannah, Georgia,” he said. “He (creates) our routine, and then we spend our time until April learning it. Then we compete in Daytona Beach.”

Gregory thinks competing in this sport teaches student-athletes accountability and responsibility.

He tells team members they will have to work hard, and cheer is not always fun.

“I explain to them at the beginning of the year: You’re sitting in a room full of people. You have to work together, but you don’t have to be best friends. You’re going to have a job someday. You’re going to walk into an office or a building, and you’re not going to like everyone personally. But you have to work with them. They can learn that now.”

The Daytona trip to compete in the NCA Collegiate National Championships costs around $40,000. The team holds clinics and camps and works at high school events to raise money.

The events serve two purposes, Gregory said. They raise money for the current season, and they get the name out to help with recruiting.

Recruiting requires patience.

“You may not get the payoff right away, but your program’s visibility is huge,” he said.

Two years ago, at an out-of-town recruiting event, a young girl told Gregory her father had cheered for Westark. Last month, the student committed to going to UAFS next year.

On another trip, Gregory saw a group of athletes he didn’t know. Although he didn’t have a chance to talk to the group, one of the students took a picture of a QR code UAFS had posted. Now that group is scheduled to come to campus for a visit.

“You just never know what will happen when you make a contact,” he said.

Gregory hopes the team will become “super involved” in community events. Participating in events like walks to raise money to fight cancer and Alzheimer’s is the way to win the community’s support, he believes.

“We can be the community’s team. It’s something that can pull the community together,” he said.


  • Tags:
  • Athletics
  • cheer