By Jamie H. Vaught
A Bell County coed has seen her lifelong dream come true.
Her goal was to be a member of University of Kentucky's cheerleading squad, which has won 20 national championships (in Universal Cheerleaders Association Division I-A coed category).
This past summer Brooke Gibbs -- who was a high school cheerleader at Middlesboro (one year) and Bell County (three years) -- had made plans to return for her second year at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro.
But she had a life-changing call from UK, asking if she would try out again.
"They remembered me trying out (before) and they needed more female cheerleaders so they asked me to come up and try out," recalled Gibbs after a recent UK women's basketball game at legendary Memorial Coliseum where she had just finished cheerleading. "It was kind of like a second tryout to what they did in May and I made it there."
Gibbs, who also did some cheering for the Southern Kentucky Athletics, knew it wouldn't be easy to achieve her goal in making the cheerleading team.
"Well, I feel like if you have a program this big and this good, you're always going to have competition," added Gibbs, who was also named Miss Bell County in 2012 and Miss Cumberland Mountain Fall Festival in 2013. "But I just went in, did what I knew I could do, did my best, and it worked for me.
"When I was in high school, I wanted to cheer for UK. Yes, UK was the goal and it didn't work out (earlier) as planned and I know God had a reason for keeping me home (during freshman year at Southeast). I wouldn't have it any other way because the transition from high school to college was hard enough staying home and I don't think I would have done this good this (past fall) semester had I come up like right after high school. I think that helped me to make the transition."
So the 4-11 beauty from Pineville became a member of the UK White squad, which primarily cheers at football and women's basketball games, including women's SEC tournament, with occasional appearances in men's basketball games at Rupp Arena.
And Gibbs, a sophomore who is majoring in Business with an emphasis on Marketing, recently went to Orlando, Fla, where the cheerleaders participated in UCA’s national championship event.
While the Wildcat cheerleaders were the defending national champion, they didn't win the whole thing this time, but did very well, finishing No. 3 in the country behind new champion University of Alabama and No. 2 University of Central Florida.
Four other SEC teams, including University of Tennessee, also placed in the Top 10 coed competition. Western Kentucky University, by the way, placed fifth in the national competition.
Interestingly, her cheerleading teammate, Sydney Brooke Shelton, also has close ties to Gibbs' hometown of Pineville. A junior from Scottsville, Ky., Shelton once attended Pineville Elementary School.
"Yes, I did know her when she went to Pineville and we're on the same team now," said Gibbs, smiling.
Her first official performance as a Wildcat cheerleader was during the "K Week," which is a series of "welcome" events for new UK students, helping them to make the transition to the university and campus life,
"The first event where I got to put on my uniform was Big Blue University (at Commonwealth Stadium)," said Gibbs. "The university has a thing called 'K Week' where we do a bunch of events all week long to welcome the new incoming freshmen. We had to be in appearance for that one on the football field. We just have the freshmen come in and we talk to them about what the sporting events would be like. That was exciting because that was the first time putting on the uniform and getting to represent the university as a cheerleader."
In UK football season opener with Tennessee-Martin at Commonwealth Stadium several months ago, Gibbs had an accident while cheering in the fourth quarter. She was placed on a stretcher and taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons, and her fall even got some statewide publicity.
Said Gibbs, "The fall was nothing major at all. They just had to take me to the hospital just to be safe. They had to check me out. There was nothing wrong with me at all. Everything was fine and they let me go.”
Gibbs added she didn't even feel scared during this incident.
As a college cheerleader, which major sport does she prefer?
"Well, when I was in high school, football was my favorite," Gibbs said. "And I still absolutely love cheering football. But I don't think anything is going to beat Kentucky basketball, like it's a whole new world out there and I love it. I think my answer would have to be basketball."
"It was the closest I could get to flying!" quipped Gibbs.
The Bell County native is certainly right about that.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle360.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. Reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle360@gmail.com.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught