BRISTOL, Tenn. – With the addition of Amber King as head coach of the King cheer team, new ideas and skills were bound to be cast upon the Tornado squad during the 2012-13 season. King Cheer wasted no time to get the upcoming season started on the right foot when they welcomed the University of Oregon Acrobatics and Tumbling staff to help share in the learning process during the team's opening camp, held this past weekend.
Before many of the student-athletes that participate on many of King's 24 varsity sport teams officially reported to campus, the first-year head coach welcomed in a bulk of her returning squad members and many of those new to the team for a five-day introductory cheerleading camp designed to better acquaint everybody for the upcoming season. The wild card that was played heading into days three, four, and five included a special visit from one of the best in the ranks of college cheer and up-and-coming NCAA sport, acrobatics and tumbling.
Traveling more than 2,500 miles from one of the most notable universities on the west coast, University of Oregon Head Coach Felecia Mulkey brought staff and team members to the King campus to educate and train a group of more than 25 Tornado cheerleaders in a variety of skills that brought the team closer to the lofty goals their head coach has set for them.
"We were really blessed to be able to actually see them demonstrate some of the acro things they were doing," said King. "They were here for us as cheerleaders, but acro(batics) is all cheer components and the technical skills are [also] more acrobatics so it was a lot safer for us and easier on their bodies."
After two days of introductions, team building exercises, and integrating King's teachings that stem from her days as a part of the College's inaugural cheerleading team, the squad welcomed an energetic and enthusiastic Coach Mulkey, Assistant Coach Angela Ucci, and three of their student-athletes to conduct the rest of the camp. Backflips, tumbling, pyramid building, and tosses were just a few of the drills covered over a three-day span signaling the start of the cheer season and a commitment to the quick and quality development of the Tornado cheer team.
Coach Amber King was pleased with the progress she witnessed in the few days they spent with Mulkey and the Oregon staff. "Our girls really excelled and progressed in skills that really no other teams in this region have," said King. "Everything that they [Oregon] brought to us, we hit, we did it."
The experience and skills that Mulkey and her staff are recognized for are incredibly impressive, even with acro (short for "acrobatics") and tumbling being a newer sport to the NCAA scene. Last season she led the Ducks to the first undefeated season in NCATA history, capping off an 11-0 campaign by knocking off No. 1 seed University of Maryland at the NCATA National Championships for their second National Championship in as many tries. The Villa Rica, Ga. native was named the NCATA Coach of the Year in 2011 after reeling in the program's first National Championship and groomed the school's first NCATA All-American.
King added, "We were doing what Oregon does at their meets, so that was really exciting for us."
With the rapid success that Mulkey and the Ducks have had over the last three seasons, the connection that has been established between King and Oregon in addition to their tutoring is a strong start to the Tornado's 2012 season. Coach King illustrated that not only is the base for a new and strengthening skill set now present but the excitement for the upcoming season is already raging up and down the roster after the camp's conclusion.
"They [the team] gained a lot of closeness and felt that sisterhood that should be on a team," said King. "Everybody was encouraging. It was really positive. The girls were motivated more than they've ever been. It was really awesome."
Though the camp, held in Kline Gym and the Student Center Complex, is just one step in the team's journey under their new head coach, King has already set the bar high for the team to achieve greatness in all areas.
"We want is to be better ambassadors of the College. We want to be able to attend more games and not just basketball, which is the main event that we cheer for, but to go to all the soccer games, baseball; just more sporting events on campus."
Her goals do not stop on the mat or integrating her team with all of Tornado Athletics' other events either. Without hesitation, King went on with the list of items she expects her team to give attention and excel at.
"Better grades. Just be more involved. I want the whole package!" she joked.
The cheer team currently has not signed on to compete this season, but that does not mean it is not on King's mind as she prepares her squad. As students begin to return to campus for fall semester classes, King and her team and excited to get back to work and put their newly refined skills to the test. King admitted that it takes between one and two weeks to learn a routine, but to put the finished product on the floor at a quality level can take any team a number of months.
We're going to build on what was learned in camp," said King. "We want to master the technical skills so we can progress to the elite skills. We want everything to be perfect. We want to have a really clean team. We are going to come back and polish up everything that we learned."
With Coach Mulkey and the Oregon acro and tumbling staff's help, that preparation process has not just began but has been shot out of a cannon weeks before classes have even started. Join them at various Tornado sporting events to witness King the cheer team's progress. The team will continue to perform at home Tornado men's and women's basketball games and expand their reach to many of the College's 24 varsity sports. To follow the team online, visit www.KingTornado.com/sports/cheer/index.