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October 19, 2012

On the Record: Erika Goodwin



She's in charge of the cheerleaders.

She's in charge of Cocky.

In short, she's in charge of school spirit. Now in her ninth season, Brookland-Cayce native Erika Goodwin, a former USC cheerleader herself, has overseen both the coed and all-girl cheerleading squads during the most successful run in school athletic history.

From her as-yet fully unpacked office in the Rice Athletics Center - hey, she's a busy lady! - Goodwin sat down with GamecockCentral.com last week to talk about what it takes to coordinate a USC gameday, maintain a folder of requests for Cocky appearances bigger than the Atlanta phone book and administer a program that under her leadership has placed in the top 10 for seven consecutive years at the National Cheerleading Association's Collegiate National Championships.

GamecockCentral.com: You're not quite unpacked yet even though you guys moved in your new offices here in July or so. I assume that means your time is at a premium?

Erika Goodwin: It is! We went into two-a-day practices at the beginning of August, and as you can imagine we flowed right into football. So I haven't quite gotten unpacked. I love the [Rice Athletics Center] building. It's absolutely beautiful. We were in the annex by the Roundhouse before, so this is awesome.

GC: When does the football season start for you?

Goodwin: We do two-a-days the first two weeks of August for camp. Then we came back and kicked it into gear for football. About two weeks before classes begin we get going.

GC: If you start before classes begin, when do you hold tryouts?

Goodwin: We have tryouts each April, and everyone tries back out. Everyone who was on the team has to re-try each year. Positions are not guaranteed; it's a clean slate. Obviously, I like to see my veterans return because of their experience and the time that they've put into the program, but it's a clean slate, all score-based.

GC: What's the scholarship situation like?

Goodwin: We do receive scholarships. All of our cheerleaders in the scholarship positions receive $500 a semester, and that starts their spring semester of their first year. Also, our out-of-state students who have a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher after their freshman year are eligible for tuition reduction, which is nice.

GC: What are your numbers like each year for both teams?

Goodwin: Our total on both squads, all-girl and coed, is a good 50 cheerleaders. They all are at football. We don't have to have them all there but they all love it so much, so that's their reward.

Then we do eight females at each volleyball match, and those females come from both squads. All-girl covers women's basketball, and coed covers men's basketball. So we're busy August through April. We don't have varsity or JV designations; they're all equally valuable. The only difference really in the squads is in how they do stunts and put girls in the air, whether it's three girls putting one girl in the air or one guy putting one girl in the air.

We have 28 scholarship positions on all-girl and 13 scholarship positions for coed. I may take a few extra and offer them non-scholarship positions to keep them in the program if they would like to take that opportunity, so that could bump our numbers up sometimes.

GC: What's your competition schedule?

Goodwin: Typically colleges only compete in one national competition. We choose to compete at NCA, National Cheerleaders Association. That's in April. So pretty much it doesn't affect our season. It's a great way to end the season on a fun note, and is something for them that's after basketball has completed. It's generally a little bit more laid-back in the spring semester, so that schedule works out nicely for us.

GC: What's the weekly practice schedule?

Goodwin: We practice typically this time a year, three times a week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Then of course Saturdays we have football, and we'll meet up four hours prior to kickoff. Those are good eight-hour days for us. Then we have many appearances throughout the week, whether it's on-campus events or local schools requesting the cheerleaders or the Gamecock Club, alumni association or other groups. We stay busy.

GC: What is the gameday routine for the cheerleaders?

Goodwin: We meet at the fieldhouse and have shuttles that take us over to Williams-Brice. Once we get there, we do our warmups briefly and then we set up the flags and all the equipment we need for gameday. Then we begin our appearance schedule, which includes Gamecock Walk, the new parade and pep rally, which is a wonderful new tradition, then we visit the Zone pregame, the Lettermen's Lounge pregame, different places. Then, if it's Parent's Weekend we'll go to the Parent's Tailgate, we'll do special things for Homecoming, things like that.

During the game, the ones who aren't cheering on the field rotate each quarter visiting our premium seating areas. We're visiting Champions Club, the different levels, and try to see as many people as possible. They're so great, I print out a complete detailed outline of who goes where, and it switches up each game. They're so good and responsible at knowing their duties, it really runs like clockwork now.

GC: What's the process for joining the team?

Goodwin: What typically happens is there's communication throughout their senior year. There's nothing that is mandatory through cheerleading up until our April tryout process. What I'll do is invite them in for a meeting, maybe they can come watch a practice. I think it's good for them to see the program and see if it's going to be a good fit for them. We have two prospect clinics that directly impact our cheerleading budget, and those prospects go in and we go through the process of tryouts and we break it down. They work out with the current team members and they can really see what it's like. It's a great way to make them feel comfortable.

The biggest thing I tell anybody, even if they're not sure they want to come to South Carolina, is get your application in early, because these days it is a totally different world with all the applications that come in. It's wonderful to have so many. The clinics, we have one in February and one in March and they take place at the fieldhouse.

GC: How many people try out?

Goodwin: We have a minimum requirement to try out, first of all, skill-wise, and that's tumbling-related. It's a standing tuck and a running layout. That cuts the numbers down from where they were maybe five years ago. We still have about 100 people that come, so if we're taking 50 or so, males included, that's a good percentage. I'd love to make everybody's dream come true of wearing a Carolina uniform, but the reality is you just can't. I do my best.

GC: Do most people cheer all four years of their college careers?

Goodwin: I think the vast majority cheer all four years. I'm always telling them, the college years are such an important time where you're figuring out who you are and who you're going to be, and sometimes you get students who come in and cheerleading was their passion and they find out they want to develop other parts of themselves, so you have some of that sometimes. But I think that's a smaller handful. The majority stay and try out and continue to be on the team for four years. I like to see that happen because I like to be a part of their lives for those four years. It's nice to go through and see them graduate and keep up with them afterward.

GC: Have any of your former cheerleaders gone into coaching the sport?

Goodwin: The new cheerleading coach at Newberry, Lindsey Barwick, was one of my former cheerleaders. Another male was at Iowa State and is now back in the area, which I'm thrilled about. Lots of them moved on in the industry. Most of them, because of their personalities, are in sales or public relations, so they're using, even if not directly, their experience here at South Carolina.

GC: What are the qualities you look for?

Goodwin: My tryout process is all score-based. It's as fair as I can possibly make it. They create their score. What skill they can do relates to what score they can get. What you find is through the process, if they didn't start out as being a natural communicator or public relations person, throughout their four years that becomes a natural process for them because they're thrown into that situation so much.

You'll see a lot of cheerleaders having that personality that is easy to talk to, easy to communicate with and welcoming. Hopefully that's what's happening! They do a lot of meeting and greeting. It's nice to see them develop that skill and then be able to use it professionally.

When I send cheerleaders out at appearances, I always pair the new people up with veterans to build those skills and learn. They're passing out stickers or greeting with veterans so they can see people with experience handle situations.

GC: And that was something you did yourself as a cheerleader here and in grad school at Louisville. You were a captain your senior year at USC in 1998, a season when the football team went 1-10. What was that like?

Goodwin: That's what makes Carolina fans wonderful. We were there, we packed Williams-Brice Stadium even then. We beat Ball State our first game, then lost every game after that. But we were still loving every minute of it. When I was fortunate enough to come back and take over the program here at South Carolina, that was the traditional part of the program I wanted to protect, to keep it fun. I wanted all of the cheerleaders to have that same experience I had of that love for the Gamecocks and see it in the fans. I protect that part of it.

GC: So you've gone from 1-11 your senior year to watching 11-2 last year.

Goodwin: Isn't that great! I've never thought about it like that. That is true. It's so much fun, the excitement that's going on now. Our requests for appearances are up, and it keeps us busier when we're on a winning streak. We're happy it's like that.

GC: People get excited when they see the cheerleaders. Is that a good feeling for them, too?

Goodwin: It is, and that's what I tell them. They come in and so many of them are true athletes that competed at an all-star level and were skill, skill, skill driven, and although that is still important, what I tell them that the best part, the most memories you'll have, is when you're walking around and you come across a little girl in a cheerleading outfit that wants to be just like you.

Those moments are special, and teaching them about being good role models, those things are what I emphasize and what I hope they carry with them. It means so much to see that interaction and see them look up to the big girls.

GC: You're both the cheerleading coach and spirit coordinator. What does being spirit coordinator entail?

Goodwin: Head cheer coach, that's taking care of our cheerleading squads. The spirit coordinator is really the administrative side of things, handling the budget, making sure the orders are in, travel advances and accommodations are in, and then, of course, Cocky.

GC: What's it like being the point person for the nation's top mascot?

Goodwin: That takes up a majority of the spirit coordinator time. He keeps me very busy. He is a very busy bird! He's wonderful to work with. We get to choose who Cocky is. They go through a tryout process, too. They obviously love what they do - you have to - and they do a tremendous job. The requests are unbelievable and come from everywhere. That was new to me and is a really fun part of what I do.

GC: Have you voted for Cocky this year in the Capital One mascot showdown?

Goodwin: Definitely! I vote daily, and many times! Everybody needs to! He's doing great. Our fans are so wonderful. He's in the lead and is undefeated! Please have your readers go vote!

GC: What's most rewarding for you?

Goodwin: Being a South Carolinian and a former Gamecock, the rewarding part is seeing the fans, knowing we're making them happy, the alumni cheerleaders happy, that type of thing. But the most rewarding part of it being a coach is seeing them succeed. Seeing all of them come through, and years later after they graduate contacting me and letting me know what an impact it had and how it has impacted them positively in their jobs and in their lives. I do my best to try and teach them as many life lessons as I can along the way to prepare them for what's coming next.

I remember that feeling when I finished grad school [Goodwin earned her Master of Arts in exercise physiology in 2002] and school was over, cheerleading was over, and that moment of "What do I do now?" I try to mentor them as well as coach their skills along the way. Hopefully that's the case. I love seeing them get into their careers, grow up, get married, all those things. That's what's great about Facebook, too, is I can keep up with them and see their babies, their wedding pictures, those kinds of things. It's nice.

GC: Do the alumni get together much?

Goodwin: From time to time the alumni will get together and set up an event around homecoming, usually a tailgating event, and we'll stop by and see them. They didn't last year but they did two years ago, and it was great.

GC: Do you recruit cheerleaders at all?

Goodwin: We don't like you'd think. I know a lot of the all-star coaches. They'll contact me and parents will contact me and it's a matter of communication throughout the years. A lot of times they'll be in touch with me as soon as they enter high school and will keep me informed throughout. You can come to the prospect clinics from ninth grade on, so we don't go out and visit, per se, but I will go to some local competitions. But we don't send people out. We don't have the budget for that.

GC: What's a typical week like for a cheerleader?

Goodwin: During the week, they have their classes, of course, and I'm very blessed because we've been able to keep up well over a 3.0 GPA for the team. So they go to classes then they practice Mondays and Wednesdays at seven o'clock. On Fridays we practice at four o'clock, then Saturdays of course we're meeting four hours prior to going to the stadium.

We then meet back at 45 minutes prior to kickoff and get ready for pre-game, then it's on! Once we finish with the fight song and alma mater at the end, we get all our equipment together and put back into storage. That'll take a little time, then we hop back on the shuttle and head back. On Sundays we're usually off unless there's a volleyball or basketball game. This time of year, volleyball has been Friday nights and Sunday afternoon, and now we're into basketball season already!

It's a packed schedule. I tell them it goes in waves. August is extremely busy with appearances and events for all the Gamecock Club chapters and community events as people gear-up for football, and then we settle in a little bit into a normal routine. Then in November it picks up again when football, basketball and volleyball are all going at once and we are running crazy.

In March, as we get into postseason basketball play, it can get a little crazy again. Last year was a lot of fun for the all-girl team traveling with the women's basketball team. That was awesome. I'm hoping for more of that, and on the men's side, too, now. We have great coaches.

GC: You took this job in 2004, how did that come about?

Goodwin: I learned about the job while I was living in Kentucky. Toni Karl, my former coach who came in my senior year, she now works in our business office. She was leaving the position and I applied, interviewed, called daily and was fortunate to be able to get it.

GC: What was it like coming home?

Goodwin: This is a dream job for me. I'm very happy. Things have increased every year, but most everything kind of flows very well for us. It's much easier these days than it was the first couple of transitional years. I'm very blessed with the friendships I've been able to make and the support I have from the former cheerleaders for the job I have.

As a coach, we're so in the go-go-go mode, but what I love best are those moments I'm watching them perform, and I realize that used to be me and think about how those girls will have the same wonderful memories someday. When it slows down like that, it's really special.

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