As the Brandon High School cheerleaders assembled their stunt groups in the second floor ballroom of the Westin Dallas Downtown, head coach Amber King walked the perimeter of the room. She and the other coaches had made the decision to forego warming up in the ovenlike convention center and instead chose to remain in the air conditioning of their hotel. She began on the left of the lineup, quietly mumbling each girl’s name and her prayers for them. Her whispered intercessions for steady hands, calm nerves, no bobbles and muscle memory went unnoticed as her girls prepared for the biggest competition of their season. She spoke a special and specific prayer for each of the 29 girls and then a prayer for them as a whole. 

Only hours later, the squad raised the banner for a third Grand National title.

“My whole body was shaking on both the varsity and the JV routines because there was just a moment where I knew, they just won,” King said. “There was no doubt that both teams were about to win a national championship. They were just so good.”

Brandon is the first cheer squad in the 75 year history of the NCA competition to win back-to-back Grand National championships. The teams also won national championships in the Advanced Crowd Performance – Varsity and Advanced Crowd Performance – Junior Varsity/Freshman categories. It was a fitting end to a season that saw the team tie and place a disappointing second in the MHSAA state competition.

“Going into nationals we had something to prove,” said Brandon senior Ellen Robinson. “Brandon girls don’t settle and they don’t quit. The entire program was going into nationals with a strong mindset centered on proving who we really are.”

The team began preparing for the NCA competition in March. The routine was choreographed by Will Emmons and Storm Chaffin of Southern Athletics and only performed publicly four times – at the regional and state competitions and twice at the NCA nationals. 

“Preparing for competition is a nonstop grind,” said Robinson. “The second you slow down is when you open the door for someone to beat you. Sometimes we have two practices a day to make sure we’ve done everything we can to be ready.”

However the team does not spend their entire year focusing on that one routine. They must also prepare routines for athletic contests, pep rallies and other school events. 

“We probably do close to 10 routines a year and a lot of them are very equitable in terms of scale but what we do on a national stage just looks different. What we compete at Nationals, state and regionals is a crowd performance which is a minute cheer and then a minute and a half performance,”said King who is completing her second year as head of the program. “We may do several minute and a half to two minute performances which certainly trains them to do what they have to do four times a year. However, I think people from the outside probably think all we are doing is that routine all the time and it’s not. That, to me, is what makes it so impressive, that they’re able to do so much in a year.”

Brandon’s success can be attributed to many things. The school, unlike many in the area, has its own nine mat practice facility equipped with a 72” television screen, wi-fi and state-of-the-art sound system. The girls are also no strangers to competitive cheer. Nearly all of them are members of an all-star cheerleading team. Emmons and Chaffin have coached many of the girls for years – long before they stepped into the Brandon PE gym.  

The squad’s success prompted cheer and dance powerhouse Varsity Spirit to feature them in a documentary on Varsity TV. The show, which has followed the team since the fall of 2020, begins at tryouts and follows the ladies through two seasons of preparations and competitions. It is the most watched series that Varsity TV has ever produced.

“Being filmed is a very surreal feeling. I think sometimes we forget that the Brandon name holds weight in cheerleading,” said Robinson, who was the team’s senior captain this year. “The show has become a constant reminder that there are literally people watching all the time so we have to uphold the standard we set as BOE Ladies.”

 Its title, Brandon Over Everything (BOE), is the cheer team’s motto and mission. 

“BOE is a true living thing because it means Brandon over everything, which to outsiders sounds very egotistical,” said King. “But it’s not that, it’s for the girl beside you. Over everything that’s going on in the world and over everything that’s going on outside these doors, Brandon and who we are to each other in the middle of those nine mats is what it’s about. It’s looking at the girl beside you, who’s holding your feet, who’s holding your hands, who’s carrying you and championing you. That is Brandon over everything.”

Brandon cheer spent this year sharing that special bond with the community. They volunteered with the Central Mississippi Down Syndrome’s Buddy Walk this past October and with the “Laps for Leslie 5K Trail Run/Walk,” a fundraiser to benefit former RCSD employee Leslie Sirmon who is battling Stage 4 Triple Negative Breast Cancer. The squad also spends game days at Brandon’s Elementary schools. Although the squad is there to sell pep items, the time they spend interacting with their young admirers is much more than fundraising.

“It’s really not a fundraiser because we are really not making any money off of those things. We’re really going to spend time with children. We really want to be there to give the high fives and the hugs,” King said. “Year two for me was really about taking those girls and placing them in the community, and letting them be the hands and feet. Cheerleaders are truly cheerleaders. They lead people in a crowd. They lead their peers, but we also have to be Kingdom builders because we have the platform.”

The highlight of their service year was participating in a pep rally for Northwest Rankin student Gabby Buford. Buford, who was diagnosed with brain cancer, was presented with a trip to Hawaii for her and her family. The squad cheered at the pep rally where the Make a Wish Foundation. The team and the family built a relationship and still talk regularly. During their national competition, Gabby sent the team a message wishing them luck.

“The championships and the program itself is going to make them better athletes,” King said. “But I truly believe that it is the community aspect which is making them better people.”

The squad has become well-known for their amazing ability to cheer for others, but their most impactful ability is the way they rally for each other. It is that love for the girl beside them which King says makes the team special. 

“On a mat and in a routine you have to take care of other people,” she said. “You have to encourage other people and that is life. You have to cheer, clap and champion and that’s what I am telling them. You’ve got to cheer one another on and be that person’s biggest cheerleader and I just keep watching them do that.”