Coaching College Sideline: An Interview with UGA’s Chris White
Chris White has spent a lifetime in the cheerleading industry. As a collegiate cheerleader, he stunted and tumbled on the sidelines for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, followed by a stint at American Cheerleading Academy. After a few years of coaching, he returned to collegiate athletics to cheer at Morehead State University. After winning a national championship with Morehead he moved back to Atlanta and worked for The Stingray All Stars in Marietta, Georgia. During his tenure at Stingrays he took part in coaching almost every squad, but was the principal organizer for the Rust, Stingray’s open division team, including leading the squad to a 2008 World Championship. Along the way, Chris also worked at Nfinity Athletics and as an organizer for the Open Championships.
As busy as Chris has been with all-star cheerleading, his passion has always been for college athletics. He has choreographed 7 NCA collegiate national championships for Georgia Southern University and still works with the program every year. For the last several years Chris has worked alongside Ben O’Brian coaching the University of Georgia cheerleading squad, including preparing the team for Georgia’s 2021 NCAA football national championship! Chris was gracious enough to sit down and answer a few questions about the challenges, both expected and unexpected, which go along with coaching collegiately.
What has been the biggest challenge for your team this year?
“The biggest challenge for our team this year was the mental health bounce back from Covid. The last several years have created some concerns which had never really been an issue before. We didn’t know if we were going to be at football and basketball games or what we were allowed to do at each game, which was compounded by the in and out of some of our kids getting COVID and being quarantined. There were very real challenges as we addressed the overall mental health aspects of students dealing with the rigor of college and the stresses of being a college athlete during the pandemic.
These issues were complicated by this whole pandemic thing and, if you did get sick, the isolation from other people could be really tough. We still go through a little bit of that, although I think a lot of the quarantine protocols have relaxed. I know that not knowing what facilities would be open was very taxing on the athletes. Being forced to quarantine away from other athletes was another hurdle. We had to move practice and performance facilities around and we still move around, actually. Bouncing back from COVID, was definitely the biggest issue that we have this year.”
How did you and your team overcome this challenge?
“We implemented a variety of new technology protocols for the team which helped a lot, because there are so many different ways to communicate and stay connected. This was especially important for members of the squad who were not permitted to participate face to face, obviously. Harnessing digital communication tools allowed us to keep the athletes on track. Having a little bit of video chat, making sure that they still felt loved, even if they were in quarantine, helped the team keep that feeling of community when we were forced into physical separation.
It is important for the athletes to know that their coaches and teammates are thinking about them, and are concerned for their wellbeing. Leveraging different apps, like the band app, and other social media tools was a good way for us to keep channels of communication open. Plus, winning the national championship in football helped a lot. It made everything better: let’s just say that.”
Tell me about a positive surprise from your most recent season.
“The University of Georgia was the 2021 NCAA CFP Football National Champion! It’s what sideline cheerleading dreams are made of! The athletes and fans in Athens had 40 years to think about it, and UGA was always on the cusp of being great. The experience was amazing, even when we lost that SEC championship to BAMA, there was never really any doubt how the team was going to respond. On campus there was just that chest up, confident feeling, there wasn’t any sense of depression. I think we all knew that it was going to happen and for that to come to fruition…it was amazing. I have been in Georgia for almost 20 years and I know many lifelong Georgia fans. These fans were sharing videos and pictures of them crying on the floor. That victory healed all the wounds of the last 40 years, and that was just a really nice thing for all of us, especially for the Georgia fans throughout the state.
As wonderful as Georgia’s championship run was, it was complicated for me, personally. I’m from Ohio, so I grew up an Ohio State fan. Then I went to the University of Cincinnati. This was a really kind of an odd year for me, kinda trying to juggle my loyalties, per se. I was wearing a Cincinnati shirt underneath my Georgia coaching outfit.
All that was on top of the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series. With the success enjoyed by both UGA and the University of Cincinnati, it was kind of a dream come true. Then the Bengals made the Superbowl! This was the most fun year in sports, as a fan and a coach, in my life.”
Want to see Chris’ team getting ready the National Championship game? Here is a clip:
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/ucZMJWgoyNA” title=”YouTube video player” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>