“Hellcats” Cram Session: Who Are Cheerleading Coaches?

Bust out your pom-poms, ‘cause tonight is “Hellcats” night! Since The Frisky’s own Kate Torgovnick happens to be an expert on college cheerleading—after all, the show is based on her book CHEER!: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders—every Wednesday we have her sound off on how the show stacks up to reality.

Tonight’s episode of “Hellcats” will involve lots of neon and crimped hair. The squad throws a rocking ’80s costume party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the squad. During the shindig, Hellcats coach Vanessa sings two classic ’80s tunes—she does an awesome rendition of “We Got the Beat” with Marti and Savannah, before giving us a solo of “Tempted By the Fruit of Another.” Interesting, since while she loves her boyfriend, the (hot!) athletic department doctor, she used to have a thing with football coach Red Raymond.

As the Hellcats mythology goes, Vanessa was a Hellcats squad member 10 years ago. So how realistic is this?Extremely. Cheerleading coaches tend to be young, and it’s very common for a coach to have cheered for the team they coach. One of the teams I followed in my book, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, is coached by Trisha O’Connor who is a former SFA cheerleader. In fact, because she graduated just a few years before becoming head coach, she had actually cheered with some of the squad’s senior members. And of the five coaches in the history of SFA’s cheer program, all of them were former SFA cheerleaders.

For the Southern University Jaguars, another squad I followed, there was an interesting twist on this story. Their coach, James Smith, was a former cheerleader—but at Southern’s rival college, Grambling State University. “I just happened to see the Southern cheerleaders practicing when I was home in Baton Rouge. Their coach at the time said, ‘I remember you. You cheered for Grambling. Can you give us any pointers?’ I’ve been here every day since,” he explains. “I wear blue, but I’m a Grambling Tiger at heart. For the first few years I coached, I couldn’t put on a Southern wind-suit.”