Lone Grove’s McClendon hopes to soar with UCO cheer
By Mallory Graves
Willow McClendon has the attitude of a champion and never gives up on her goals. As a now-former Lone Grove Longhorn, McClendon will continue her cheerleading career as a Broncho at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
McClendon has competitively cheered for five years at Oklahoma Outlaws Cheer in Ardmore.
“I definitely believe that OOC has helped me become the cheerleader I am today,” McClendon said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. I wouldn’t have done any sort of cheer if it weren’t for Outlaws either. I currently still tumble there to continue to practice my skills.”
On May 8, McClendon found out that she made the 2020-2021 UCO cheer team.
“I found out when Jenni Hawkins, head UCO cheer coach, sent us the roster in our group chat. When I saw my name on the list, I was super excited. I knew this was something I loved doing, and I was so blessed that I had the opportunity to continue in college. The first person I told was my dad, and right after that, I called my best friend and told her. They were both super happy for me.”
Her high school coaches were proud of her as well.
Susie Solley, head Lone Grove cheer coach says, “It is a really big deal. I’m really proud of Willow, because she has worked really hard and has been excited about cheering for UCO all year long. She’s gone to numerous recruitment clinics and she’s very eager to learn more about the program.”
“I’m excited for her. Willow is very dedicated,” said Lone Grove skills coach Kaitlyn Martin. “I would think that she is probably the most motivated on the team. She’s always trying to improve herself and get better each practice. Her positive attitude really stands out to me and she definitely earned her spot on the UCO cheer team.”
Even though the cheer tryout had to be done virtually, that did not stop McClendon from reaching her goals.
“During my tryout, I was nervous, but confident,” McClendon said. “Since we had to be socially distanced during it, the tryout was a Facetime interview with the head cheer coach, Jenni Hawkins, a compiled video of our standing and running tumbling, and jumps. The material that we had to learn for the audition was the fight song and the band song Oklahoma. We performed those two things over a live Facetime call which took about roughly five minutes. The whole tryout process took about two weeks.”
McClendon chose UCO not only for athletic reasons, but for academic as well.
“I was considering OU for a while, but only for academics and not cheer,” McClendon said. “I decided on UCO my junior year for cheer, and it has a really good program for forensics which is what I want to major in. I love anything forensics related. I’m double majoring in that and psychology so I am super excited to further my education in those areas. When I graduate, I would like to go into the FBI and be a criminal behavioral analyst. That is my dream job.”
The UCO cheer program is known for its continuous national championships that they have won. McClendon is ready to be a part of the success.
“I’m looking forward to bonding with my new teammates,” McClendon said. “I love how close they all seem. It truly feels like one big family. I can’t wait to learn new collegiate level skills. I also hope to learn new stunts and excel in being a flyer. They’ve won 11 NCA Championships which I hope I will be on the mat to win another.”
Anything that you do in life can teach you a lesson, good or bad. McClendon explained what cheer has taught her over the years.
“Consistency is key no matter what,” McClendon said. “Do not give up on something if it doesn’t work out the first time, try again even harder. For example, if you’re learning a new skill as in a tumbling pass or a stunt and you don’t get it the first time, just keep working at it, and eventually, you’ll succeed.”
Although none of McClendon’s senior cheer season was cut short by COVID-19, she still missed out on her other activities that she was looking forward to.
“I was a track manager all through high school, so I didn’t get to have any last track meets, or go to the state meet which was really hard for me,” McClendon said. “I really enjoyed it. I timed the events, organized merchandise sales, stretched the athletes, taped and iced them up, and ran errands for my coach. Also, my senior prom got canceled. I was very disappointed, because I had already purchased a dress too which I loved. I was super sad that we weren’t having one.”
After her visit to the campus in Edmond, McClendon knew UCO was going to be her home for the next four years.
“After my visit, I was sold. I loved the campus. It wasn’t too big or too small, which will make it easy to navigate through when I get there and have to walk to classes on my own.”