The senior members of this year’s Corbin High School cheer squad have the opportunity to do something very special before they graduate in the spring of 2018. That’s not to say that they haven’t accomplished plenty already, but should they secure a state championship title in December they will get to go out having won that title each year of their high school careers.
Not only that, but they also have the chance to compete at nationals for the fourth straight time since they started walking the halls at CHS. Let’s review…
In February of 2014 the cheer Hounds achieved a 12th place finish at the UCA Nationals competition in Orlando, Fla. Later that year, in December, they won a KHSAA state championship in the large division. They returned to nationals in February of 2015, this time improving to a fourth place finish.
They moved into the medium division at the 2015 KHSAA state championships, once again bringing home first place gold. That was followed by the team’s crowning achievement to date – a UCA National championship title in February of 2016. The Hounds won their national crown in the medium varsity II division.
Corbin cheer won their third straight state title in December 2016, and then placed fourth again at nationals 2017. That brings us to the present, where a seasoned group of veterans are hoping to lead their squad to glory one last time before they move on to their lives post-high school.
Those senior members of the 2017-18 Redhound cheerleading squad are Emily Davis, Bailee O’Neill, Hannah Matlock, Abbey Norvell, Jazlyn Harris, Bailee O’Kuma, Kaylee Sturgill and Chloe Ingle.
Seven of these eight young ladies have looked up to Shonya O’Neill as their head coach for the past four years (Harris came to Corbin from South Laurel last school year), and O’Neill has enjoyed every second of getting to be their coach. “I have been with them since the TCSA level,” she explained. “They’ve had to travel a bumpy road to prove to others and themselves that they can do this, but they have also been very good about setting goals and staying positive.”
“They’re a good group of girls,” O’Neill continued. “I have one child on the team, but I consider them all to be like my children. We’re together almost every day, and we just have a tight bond. I just can’t say enough good things about them.”
O’Neill admitted that losing this year’s senior class will be tough for the program, but she is confident in their ability to lead the Hounds on another championship run before their time is through. The road will begin with the 13th Region championship competition at the Corbin Arena on November 4, followed by a national qualifier in Lexington about a week later. Then will come the 2017 KHSAA state championships at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena, and finally the 2018 UCA Nationals in Orlando this February.
When asked for her thoughts on the months ahead, O’Neill said, “This particular team has no titles. They have to earn their own. We’ve started that quest, and I feel like we’re doing well after losing four really solid seniors to graduation last year (Hannah Coots, Shaylla Shelton, Breanna Smith and Lexie Carr).”
“We’re pleased with where we’re at right now. We want to repeat at region and state, and we’ve actually never won a national qualifier, so we would like for that to happen this year. We just have to be willing to do the work that we need to do in order to make those things happen.”
O’Neill thanks many people for her team’s success in recent years, including assistant coaches Jaime Grubb and Tiffany Wyatt, and choreographer Bryce Seals. She also wanted to thank Corbin Schools Superintendent David Cox, CHS Principal John Crawford and former Superintendent Ed McNeel for all of their support, and of course, she wanted to thank God for making it possible for her to coach the team.
When asked about the path that has led the cheer Hounds to this moment, O’Neill said, “We’ve had struggles along the way, and we’ve had to prove ourselves to a lot of people. There isn’t one thing that I would change, though, because each moment has helped to build the team that we are today. Each one of the stepping stones has created this program that I am very proud of. We have earned a lot of respect in the state, and in the nations. People know us now, and that’s a really good feeling.”
As for how our eight seniors are feeling about their high school journeys, and what this final year could hold for them, Davis said, “The journey was definitely hard for us starting out. We all got the hang of it, though, and making it this far, from our freshman year to our senior year, has been really awesome. I hope that this year we can win our fourth state championship, and hopefully win nationals again.”
O’Neill said, “When I first came into this program I didn’t know how to do much of anything, so to think about how we’ve all gotten to this point is just a really big deal to all of us. We’ve all help build this team into something that other cheer programs look up to, and that’s just been a really awesome experience.”
Matlock said, “At the beginning we didn’t really know what we were doing, but I feel like over the years we’ve all learned together and developed some great friendships. There have been so many hours of hard work, but it’s all been worth it in the end.”
Norvell said, “It’s been an honor to be a part of it all, and honestly just to make it to this point is so surreal. It’s a new role to take on this year, because we all have to be leaders, but the relationships we’ve developed with the younger girls is really good. I think that will help to build the team and grow it into the future.”
Harris said, “When I first came in, everyone was very welcoming. They were all super nice to me, and if I didn’t understand something they were always there to help me. It’s always been an amazing experience for me, but I hope that we can win another state title, and maybe even another national championship.”
O’Kuma said, “It’s been very rewarding to be a part of the Corbin High School cheerleading team. Coming up as a freshman I was very nervous. It was a new environment and a new experience for all of us, but we’ve all worked very hard to be able to win these three state titles and one national title. Hopefully we’ll win a fourth state title, and finish out our senior year with a bang and another national title.”
Sturgill said, “This year will be really bittersweet. I love this team and these girls. We have a lot of really close relationships, so I think that will help us a lot. We all have a lot of really high hopes.”
And finally, Ingle said, “The practices have been long, but the years have been short. It’s a big year for us, especially us eight seniors. We’ve always been so close, and we all have a lot of expectations. We want another clean sweep like our sophomore year.”
If you attend a Corbin football game in the near future be sure to wish these young ladies luck if you have the chance to do so. Very soon they will attempt to make history once again by adding more regional, state and national awards to their already impressive collection. It’s been a monumental ride so far, but the cheer Hounds are not finished yet.