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Ole Miss Cheer Takes Center Stage in New Lifetime Series

By Talbert Toole
Lifestyles Editor

Video via Youtube.com

Although cheerleaders are often seen as spirit lifters at football and basketball games, the Ole Miss cheerleaders want the country to know they work just as hard as the athletes they cheer to victory. 

The Ole Miss Cheerleading team will accomplish this on the center stage in their new Lifetime series “Cheerleading Generation” as Head Coach Ryan O’Connor tries to make headway in the program with a national title.

It is no secret that O’Connor hails from cheerleading royalty as the daughter of Donna Martin, who coached for over 30 years at Lexington, Kentucky’s Dunbar High School. The mother-daughter duo is no stranger to reality TV cameras. They were featured in MTV’s “True Life” during O’Connor’s earlier years in the sport.

Now the cameras are back and following the stories of both O’Connnor and Martin’s teams and all the challenges cheerleaders face on the field and on the mats.

The show began filming in May 2018 and finished in March 2019. Episode 1, “Dropping Like Flies” premiered on the Lifetime Network on June 11 with the second episode airing last night.

This new adventure back into reality TV began when producer Laurie Girion, who produced the “True Life” episode, reached back out to O’Connor and Martin to see if the two would be interested in a “where are they now” piece, according to O’Connor.

Girion originally reached out to Martin in the early 2000s for the “True Life” episode to film a 45-documentary of the cheerleading tryout process at a high school.

“My mom was very skeptical,” O’Connor said.

In 2008, O’Connor and Martin made television once again on “Cheerleading Nation” which told the story of O’Connor’s high school cheerleading team, when her mother was still coach.

The Ole Miss cheerleaders and Rebelettes traveled to Orlando, Florida in January 2019 with hopes to bring home a national championship from the UCA and UDA competitions. Photo by Talbert Toole.

Now, with O’Connor leading the Rebels and Martin remaining at the top of her game, the two have the same goals yet again—national titles.

“We wouldn’t do this with any other producer,” O’Connor said. “Laurie knows us so well.”

During the filming of “Cheerleading Generation,” a handful of students on the team took the spotlight; however, O’Connor made it clear to other teammates they should refrain from being jealous. She said the students selected to be featured put in an extensive amount of effort on and off camera by showing up to practice earlier and staying late. From classes to practice, the featured students had to make sure to schedule in interviews along with their day-to-day lives.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” O’Connor said. “I don’t think they could have picked better people to follow, though.”

The show focuses heavily on the competition aspect of the cheerleading squad. O’Connor said there are many things viewers will not see on camera.

She said what viewers might not witness is the physical, mental and emotional stress she and her team face throughout the year. The cheer team is also heavily involved in the community, which she said might not make air-time.

O’Connor said one thing she hopes viewers take away from the show as they tune in is how passionate her students are about their sport.

“I hope people see that it’s not just cheerleading,” O’Connor said. “It’s not just cheerleading to them.”

“Cheerleading Generation” aires on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. central on the Lifetime Network

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