5 questions for a high school competition coach

Brent Paige has been a high school competition cheerleading coach for 18 years. He cheered at Georgia Southern University for four years, competing at both NCA and UCA College Nationals as well as cheering on the sideline for football and basketball games. After his tenure as a collegiate athlete, Brent began coaching all-stars and high school competition. Although he coached at several high schools, Brent’s most recent foray into cheerleading was at Lambert High School, located in the metropolitan Atlanta area. Brent has enjoyed remarkable success during his coaching career, including 5 region championships, three state runner-up placements, and six state titles. Most of these came in the 7A division, the largest of the divisions in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) which runs most high school athletics in the state. Brent’s teams have always been characterized as having extremely high levels of difficulty, flashy choreography, and consistent, error-free performances.

What was the biggest issue for your team this year?

“The last year that I coached was the year after COVID had hit everywhere. I think really the biggest challenge was keeping the team interested and motivated. That is because the cheerleading competition season got pushed back from August-November to November-February. So it made it for a very long year. Just trying to navigate through all the protocols with COVID and keeping the kids healthy and having enough members of the squad on the floor for each competition was a challenge. Even with mitigation efforts in place, the combination of COVID and injuries often made it difficult for the team to have full practices.”

How did you and your team overcome this issue?

“We had to adjust what we normally did. Typically, we were going into our first full out in August with the competitive cheer season ending in November with the state finals. Because the season was four months longer, we scaled back our practices to only two days a week until early October. Then we started to ramp it up where we would practice more days, and we got to a point where we would go four days a week. And many times, we would participate in team building activities where it wasn’t so much the grind of practice every single day for those months on end until the state cheerleading finals in February. Making those adjustments for the longer season helped my team win the state cheerleading finals that year.”

Tell me about a positive surprise from your most recent season.

“I think the biggest surprise was going into our fifth regular-season competition, one of our main fliers ended up getting injured and that put her out for the rest of the season. We found out that she was no longer able to participate on Friday, and we were supposed to compete the very next day, on Saturday. We did not have a flyer as an alternate at that point that was ready to compete on the varsity squad. We reached out to one of the athletes that had just finished her JV season. Although she had been a base on the JV squad we learned that she had flown three years prior to that. Within 24 hours were able to put this young lady into a flying position on varsity, with all the stress and responsibility that comes with that position, and reworked the routine. We were able to compete at the invitational on the next day and hit zero. That was just a really big testament to the dedication and the drive of the athletes on the team to never give up, even when faced with adversity.”

What changes would you like to see in the format of high school competition cheerleading?

I think one of the ones that I have been an advocate of for a long time is changing up the way that the divisions in our state are structured. I know there are some cheerleading programs in the state of Georgia that have quite a few athletes and those programs could fill a medium or a large division. I would like to see the state competition structured so that it is not organized by school size, with single A through seven A, in addition to the private school and Coed divisions. Instead I would like to see a small (16 athlete), medium (20 athlete), and a large (24 athlete) division. This way the high school competition structure would more closely align with what All Stars does. I think that would lead to better competitions. A new format would also let some other teams in our state have a better chance of placing.

What one piece of advice is important for high school competition cheerleaders and coaches to remember?

“To be successful takes a dedicated coach, not just a sponsor. They need to have the drive and desire to win region and compete at the highest level at state. Athletes must understand that dedication and sacrifice are necessary to create powerhouse programs. Lots of teams go to just have fun, but winning is the most fun of all!”

One of the most important considerations in building a successful program is to realize that it takes coaching that is truly dedicated. You cannot reach the highest levels of success with just a cheerleading “sponsor.” Successful coaches need to have a drive and a desire to succeed beyond simply wanting to win your region, but also the drive to compete at the highest level when you get to state. Sometimes the importance of the coach as a motivational and enthusiastic leader is lost on athletes, parents, and administrators. There is a lot of dedication and sacrifice that must go into your high school cheerleading squad to reach the point where you’re able to compete at that highest level. Too many teams nowadays just kind of go out there to have fun. That was never my mentality: it was more you have fun when you hit a routine and you see those accomplishments come out from that hard work and dedication and sacrifice.

It has been exciting to watch how Georgia has grown competitive cheerleading. The Georgia High School Association began competitive cheerleading in 1992, thirty years ago! In the 18 years that I’ve coached, I’ve seen it go from a low-stakes exhibition in high school gyms to where it is now, filling the Macon Centriplex for two days of intense competition. It’s been fun to watch the progression of cheerleading in high school, especially in the state of Georgia, grow over these past 18 years.”

Want to see Brent’s team? Here is Lambert High School’s last state-winning performance!