Ever since she was a little girl growing up in Missouri City, Shontrese Comeaux has loved being a cheerleader. From her time on an elite team in Sugar Land, to her time as a little Houston Oilers Cheerleader, to cheering for Hightower High School, her love of the sport has transcended the years.
And yes, cheerleading is a sport. Just look at the countless hours Comeaux spends training her Tiger Cheer team. It’s a dedication and commitment that has paid off – in a historic way.
Comeaux, who serves as Texas Southern University’s Head Cheer Coach, is fresh off the wave of securing a national title at the National Cheer Association Championship in Daytona Beach, Florida. The victory was a historic one, making the TSU Tigers the first historically Black collegiate squad to win a national cheerleading championship in the NCA’s 75 years of existence.
As she holds tryouts this week to build next year’s team, Comeaux talked with the Defender about the monumental accomplishment.
Defender: This is the national competition, where your team competed against, not only other HBCUS, like _, but predominately white universities like, _. And you won, something no other HBCU cheer team has ever been able to accomplish.
Comeaux: Right. We’ve never seen this on the NCA level, which is the pinnacle of cheer competitions. So, it’s a huge deal to make strides for the cheer world and HBCU world. It’s easy to be intimidated when you get there and see the competition, but we put in the hard work at practice. I drill into my team year after year that they have to put out the energy in order to be successful. I instill in my team that winning doesn’t start with how you prepare physically. It starts with how you prepare mentally. And with us having a winning routine, they just needed to have the confidence to go in and know they’re giving everything that they’ve got. And they’re also setting the trend for other HBCUs, as well.
Defender: What was one of the most intense parts of the six-month championship preparation process?
Comeux: Definitly narrowing down the squad of 26 cheerleaders to 22 to compete in Daytona, which included the TSU Tommy the Tiger Mascot. The squad even held tryouts this past January to ensure we had the best cheerleaders ready for the mat. The cheer world is very cutthroat and very competitive. You have to have a strong mindset going in. It takes a lot of endurance, mentally, physically and emotionally to endure the cuts. There were last-minute changes that had to be adapted to.
Defender: This win highlights Black cheerleaders who are usually overlooked in a sport where barriers include an expensive price tag just to perform.
Comeaux: Not a lot of kids in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods are afforded the opportunity to participate in programs that are strong where they can go compete. Competitive Cheer is a very pricey sport. Any cheerleader will tell you if they’ve grown up in cheer, whether it’s been little league to competitive, all-star, school, it’s very expensive. When you go to an HBCU, it’s a lot of fundraising that has to be involved in order to participate in the National Cheer Association.
Defender: How did you instill that confidence in your cheerleaders?
Comeaux: I am my cheerleader’s biggest cheerleader. I incorporate cardio and HIIT workouts into the team regime, and I’m very particular in perfecting each cheerleader’s jumps, motion, and tumbling drills before they even start the championship routine. Throughout the year, I start at the beginning when we go to NCA camp every year. I give them energy, I’m pumping them up, whether they’re at practice, whether they’re on the field, whether they’re doing routines. And I’m hyping them up individually and as a team so that they know what they’re doing is good and they already have that energy and they’re not afraid. I kind of put that mentality on them, even though myself and Greg Malone, my assistant coach, we give them critiques on what they need to fix. But at the end of the day, we’re pumping energy into them and we’re, you know, hyping them up as they go along. So by the time that they get out there and they’re ready to perform, they are a team.
Defender: You’ve taken home the championship. What’s next?
Comeaux: This is just preparation for me to think bigger and better. And now that we’re the first team to do it, it just sets the precedent of, what can I do to get to the next level? How can I inspire more and how can I do more with the team and for the community and for other Black boys and girls that want to cheer?
Defender: You pride yourself on teaching more than just cheer skills, right?
Comeaux: Oh, yes, absolutely. My team comes and talks to me about everything. Even though I am the head cheer coach, I’m also part-time counselor, part-time mama, part-time advisor. I’m everything to them. I know all their secrets. They come and talk to me about everything. I’m there to give them advice.
The TSU Tigers’ national championship-winning routine can be viewed here.