Krysta Kemp nearly didn’t make it out of the tunnel at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The date was Sept. 4, 2011 in Morgantown.
It was the annual Friends of Coal football game between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the in-state rival Marshall Thundering Herd.
More than 60,000 fans were in the stands for the much-anticipated season opener.
It was Kemp’s first game as a major college cheerleader as she wore the Blue and Gold of WVU.
Anticipation was high.
The adrenaline was flowing and her heart was racing.
Then they were given the signal by a stadium official.
It was time to go.
It was time for Kemp and the rest of the WVU cheerleaders to emerge from the tunnel and lead the Mountaineer football team out onto the football field.
They ran out.
The crowd roared.
A nervous Kemp somehow was able to bolt out of the tunnel at full speed. She said the moment has always stuck with her.
“The first game was very nerve-wracking,” Kemp said. “My legs were like Jell-O when I was running out there on the field. The cheerleaders run out and lead the team out of the tunnel. You have to run as fast as you can because you have all of these humongous football players right behind you. It’s a huge wave of Blue and Gold that you see.”
Kemp, a 2010 Logan High School graduate and fifth-year senior at WVU, had initually spent her freshman year cheering at Division II Fairmont State University, but transferred to West Virginia due to academics and her desire to cheer for the Mountaineers.
She had always seen WVU games on TV, of course, but after experiencing game day in Morgantown firsthand she was sold after the very first football Saturday.
She was hooked.
“During the first game I was like, ‘Wow!’ I want to do this forever. I never want to quit cheerleading,” said the All-American-looking Kemp, with long, flowing slightly curly brown hair and a friendly smile. “You definitely have to experience a Mountaineers’ football game if you haven’t.”
That was three years ago.
Fast-forward to 2014.
Kemp looks ahead to one last year with the WVU cheer squad and one last football season.
She hopes to soak in every moment and enjoy this fall to the fullest.
“Just the experience in itself is a reward to me,” Kemp said. “I cheered at Fairmont State my freshman year on a competitive cheerleading team. I had received a scholarship there. I decided to transfer to West Virginia University my sophomore year because of the occupational therapy program there and I also wanted to cheer for WVU.”
Kemp is not alone in Morgantown.
Also on the WVU cheerleading squad is Logan’s Kristen Chafin.
The two helped lead Coach Michelle Akers’ Logan High School cheerleading squad to the Class AAA state championship in 2009, Kemp’s senior year. It was the first ever state cheer championship of any kind for LHS. Logan has since won another, last year.
Kemp and Chafin have remained good friends at West Virginia.
“Being on the squad is so exciting when you are from a small town,” Kemp said. “It’s always been a big dream of ours. We decided to go there together and cheer and support each other along the way. We both made the team and we were estatic about that.”
Kemp, who is studying occupational therapy at WVU, said she graduates in May.
“I just received by bachelor’s degree this past year in health and human performance,” she said. “Right now, I’m in the occupational therapy program. It’s a five-year program, so I graduate in May with my master’s degree. I have one more year of eligibility to cheer at WVU.”
This week saw Kemp spending some time back in Logan as she helped out with the annual Flip-N-Twist Gymnastics Camp at the Flip-N-Twist Gym.
For Kemp, this is where it all started.
Thirteen years ago, she clomped up the steep, wooden steps at the downtown Logan gym for the first time as she started to take her first gymnastics classes.
“I was 8-years-old when I started in gymnastics here at the Flip-N-Twist,” Kemp said. “At that time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t ever dream that I would be here where I am today but I always wanted to be a cheerleader. I started out here and I met Heather and Teresa Bryant. Heather has done so much and she has done wonders. I love to come back here, especially where I am now, to come back here. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Kemp showed up at Thursday evening’s gymnastics camp in full WVU cheerleading uniform.
Of course, she was a big hit.
Just about all of the girls in the camp lined up one or two at a time to get their picture with their new hero.
Kemp posed for at least a couple of dozen photos before the camp got started.
“It’s been fun. I worked with the kids here when I was in high school and helped Heather out with the camp,” she said. “I love to come back and pretty much seeing myself in their eyes as I was a kid, too. It’s fun to be back and it feels good to be home.”
After learning some gymnastics skills at Flip-N-Twist, Kemp said she first cheered in the Logan Buddy Basketball League and also in Midget Football before cheering for Logan Middle School and then Logan High School.
“My first ever team was in the Logan Buddy League with the Photo One team,” Kemp said, smiling. “I was just 8-years-old and I didn’t know what I was doing. I did Midget League Football and started to do that every year. Then I cheered for Logan Middle School and then for Logan High School.”
Kemp said she also did some all-star youth cheerleading with the Teays Valley-based River Cities All-Stars. It was in the pre-Cheeriffic days. It would be a few years later when the Bryants of Flip-N-Twist Gym formed the Cheeriffic All-Stars and turned them into a nationally known program.
“I never did get a chance to experience that (Cheeriffic) but I did get to be a part of the River Cities All-Stars in Teays Valley. I went over there a couple times a week before I got to middle school,” Kemp said. “I got some experience with all-star cheerleading there. If they would have had Cheeriffic then I would have definitely been all decked out in pink and black.”
At WVU, Kemp said the cheerleaders mostly do sideline cheers at both football and basketball games but sometimes are featured at halftime.
“Sometimes we do a halftime performance during basketball season and they reserve a game for us,” she said. “Usually we start practicing for basketball season in November, so we can get everything together. It’s so much fun because you have people coming from so many different places on the team. What they learn from the past we all kind of bring it together and we figure out what we can do best, what we can perform the best and what we can do the best as a team.”
Kemp admits she sometime misses the aspects of competitive cheerleading that she used to do with the River Cities All-Stars, LMS and LHS.
If you still don’t know what competitive cheerleading is like just go watch the state tournament in early December at the Charleston Civic Center and you will be in for a treat.
The movie “Bring it On” will also suffice.
“I do miss the competition aspect of cheerleading,” she said. “I really enjoyed cheering at Logan High School when we won the state cheerleading championship in 2009 my senior year. That was the first ever cheerleading team at Logan High School to win a state championship. I thought that was a dream come true. But now, cheering the past four years at WVU has been an even bigger dream come true. I love cheering in college but sometimes I do miss competitive cheerleading. But it’s still very exciting to lead your team on and lead your school on. To represent the state University of where you are from was even better.”
Some still debate if cheerleading is a sport.
If you have seen a good squad like WVU’s in person there would be no question. There is also opportunities for local girls to earn scholarships to cheer in college. Kemp said she has received a cheerleading alumni scholarship at WVU.
“Absolutely, it’s most definitely a sport,” Kemp said. “We put in as much time as any of the other teams and we travel as much as any of the teams. We work hard and we perform just like they do.”
Kemp has, of course, enjoyed being able to cheer along her favorite team, the WVU Mountaineers, the past four years.
Her sophomore year, and her first year with the WVU cheer squad, the Geno Smith-led Mountaineers finished the season ranked No. 17 in the nation following their stunning 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla.
Then the next year in 2012, the Mountaineers went to a bowl game again but lost 38-14 to Syracuse at a snowy Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City. Kemp and the WVU cheer squad travel with the team to all of the football games.
“It was pouring the snow and we were slipping all over the place,” Kemp said. “It was fun and it was still a bowl game. Hopefully, we will get to go to another one this year.”
Despite the loss to the Orange, Kemp said she enjoyed her trip to lower Manhattan.
“It was fun to go to New York City. It was around Christmas time,” Kemp said. “We got to go shopping and we got to spend a lot of time with the team. We didn’t get to go to a bowl game last year and we missed that but basketball season made up for that.”
There was no bowl game for the WVU football team last season as the Mountaineers lost six of their last seven games to finish a disappointing 4-8.
WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen hopes to turn things around this fall.
For Kemp, she said she would like to close out her cheerleading career with one last bowl game — preferably one in a warm climate like Florida or California.
“That would be nice,” she said. “We have our fingers crossed this year and we are going to cheer hard for them.”
Kemp also has a vested interest in the success of the WVU football team. She said she is currently dating a member of the team. She didn’t name any names but she said he’s a member of the special teams.
Since West Virginia joined the Big 12 Conference there has been a lot of travel for the Mountaineers and the cheerleading squad.
That means a lot of trips to Texas to places like Baylor, Texas, TCU and Texas Tech. There’s also trips to the states of Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa.
Morgantown is a long way away from the other nine conference members.
That’s been fine for Kemp, who said she loves to travel.
“The Big 12 is a tough conference but we love being in it,” Kemp said. “We definitely love to travel and that’s one of my favorite parts out of it. I love to travel.”
A couple a years ago, Kemp was invited to attend the Big 12 Football Media Day in Dallas.
“I got picked last year to go to the Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, Texas, during this time last year,” Kemp said. “I got to experience that and I got to meet people from other teams and other schools. I got interviewed there by USA Today. It was a great experience.”
Heather Bryant, who operates Flip-N-Twist Gym with her mother Teresa, said she was thrilled to have her former student back this week at the gymnastics camp.
“It’s a sheer pleasure for her to come home this summer and help the campers with their dances,” said Bryant, also a former Logan High School cheerleader. “They have been so excited to have her here and she has done a fantastic job. I’m so proud of her and I am so happy for her. I’ve had Krysta Beth since she was 8-years-old here with gymnastics at Flip-N-Twist.”
The Bryants, along with Brittney Hartman (another ex-LHS cheerleader), also coach the Logan-based Cheeriffic All-Stars cheerleading squad.
Teams from Cheeriffic have won five overall national championships over the last three years, including a national crown last year in Youth Level 2 out of 123 total qualifying teams across the country.
Bryant said she would have loved to have had Kemp for Cheeriffic back in the day. The squad didn’t form until later on.
“We didn’t have that program here at that time but she cheered for the Logan Cowboys team and she did a fantastic job,” Bryant said.
For Kemp, it was back to Morgantown on Friday.
With football just around the corner, the WVU cheerleading squad is beginning to make preparations for another season.
Kemp said she can’t wait to get it started.
It will be a season of challenges for the Mountaineers, which have one of the toughest schedules in the country.
The season opener is Aug. 30 vs. national powerhouse and No. 7 preseason ranked Alabama in the Chick fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The game will be nationally televised by either ABC or ESPN2.
Then there’s all the rest of the usual suspects in the Big 12 with games against No. 6 Oklahoma on Sept. 20 at home, a home game with the No. 13-ranked Baylor Bears on Oct. 18, a road contest at No. 17 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., and all of the rest of the tough matchups.
The home opener is Sept. 6 against FCS team Towson.
WVU also has games against Maryland, Kansas, Texas Tech, TCU, Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State.
It’s just about time.
Kemp said she’s ready for another exciting season of WVU football.
“Game day is so exciting. It’s like an all-day adrenaline rush. It’s an all-day event,” she said. “Just hearing the roar, ‘Let’s go Mountaineers’ in the stadium, it really hits hard in your heart. It’s amazing and I’m proud that I’ve been able to be a part of it.”
— Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 304-752-6950 ext. 1730.