They may stand on the sidelines with perfect smiles and perky attitudes, but make no mistake: UofL’s cheerleaders and Ladybirds are some of the most driven— and decorated— athletes on campus.
The Ladybirds dance team, the co-ed cheerleaders and the all-girl cheerleaders returned from the 2018 NCA & NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship with four national titles between them.
That gives the Ladybirds 19 total championships, including three straight double titles (in hip hop and team performance). The co-ed squad has 18 titles, while the all-girl squad has 15.
“The consistency of excellence is what makes it a legendary program,” said Todd Sharp, head coach of the Ladybirds and spirit coordinator for men’s and women’s cheer, dance and mascot.
Sharp, Ladybirds coach Sheryl Knight and cheer coaches James Speed and Misty Hodges keep their teams working year-round. During the school year, teams have practice at least four days a week, and they perform at football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, volleyball and baseball games. Even when the students are on summer break, they’re sending the coaches videos of themselves tumbling.
“We work out, we have extremely tough practices,” said Madison Clark, a fifth-year senior on the Ladybirds. “We are pushed to our limits. But being able to represent the university the way we do is incredible.”
“One thing we’re blessed with in this community is that the general public knows what being a Ladybird means, they know what it means to cheer for Louisville,” Sharp said. “Our fans have been educated about what it takes to be on these teams and they are proud of us.”
While the Louisville community has been supportive, the rest of the country got a chance to see what being a Ladybird is like during the first season of “So Sharp,” a reality show on Lifetime that followed Sharp and the team during their run for the 2017 championship.
“The Ladybirds legacy was strong before ‘So Sharp,’ but I think it really showed how hard these kids work,” Sharp said. The impact of the show was evident in tryouts for the 2018-19 squad when dancers from across the country showed up to audition.
The show may have furthered the Ladybirds reach, but the UofL spirit groups have long maintained a reputation for trendsetting. “Whatever we wear to nationals one year, all of a sudden you see different teams wearing it the next year. A lot of programs that try to beat us come at us with our own game,” Sharp said. “We always try to be the leader instead of following the leader.”
Calvin Koneman, a senior cheerleader, said the current teams are inspired by their alumni. They work through the pain, the stress, the sweat that are required to be elite athletes and performers so they can keep up the winning tradition.
“In the end, it’s all worth it,” Koneman said. “The championships speak for themselves.”