She’s been the cheerleader you see at football and basketball games, the one who’s tossed up into the air for about 20 feet, who spins around and lands in the arms of the cheerleaders on the ground.

And she’s been the mid-layer cheerleader in a pyramid who appears to be suspended by only the upper body strength of a base and the arm strength of those on the top. But for the last 20-plus years, Christy Bryan-Davis has been coaching the women and men at major West Virginia University athletic events who pump up the crowd with cheers, songs, and stunts.

She began her own cheerleading career in the fourth grade, was a high school cheerleader in Clarksburg at Washington Irving High School and on to WVU, where she cheered through her undergrad and graduate school days. At first, she was a flyer who stood on the shoulders of others. Later she was a mid-layer, that side piece in a pyramid, and she ended up liking that even better. “I liked it because somebody was putting their trust in me, instead of me putting my trust in them. It was fulfilling.”

woman in flying WV cheer shirt looks up at people

The cheerleaders you see at every event look calm, composed, and without fear. That kind of confidence can only be born after hours of practice. And trust. Trust is a key element for cheerleaders no matter their place in a stunt.

Like those pyramids, trust is built; Bryan-Davis is more than aware that cheerleaders can be hurt as badly as any other athlete. She starts her training small — small things, small stunts like assisted toe touches, toss hands, and extensions.

“There’s a progression that we follow; we start with the easier things, and once those are mastered, we work our way up,” she said. “There is an art to how the girls come out of the air. They have to have self-awareness and body control, staying tight and holding body positions. It makes them easier to catch. The amount of athleticism that the cheerleaders have to have to make it through a game day is incredible.”

The amount of athleticism that the cheerleaders have to have to make it through a game day is incredible.

— Christy Bryan-Davis

Two teams of cheerleaders — one gold, one blue — cheer on the Mountaineers. The gold team performs at major events, and the blue team trains for the time they can take over. That’s when Bryan-Davis and her assistant coaches, Shannon Elliott and Kris Davis, get to know them and learn who is not only proficient at stunts but able to maintain a good working relationship, a camaraderie, that creates a positive experience for the entire team, including the coaches and the training staff.

Two cheerleaders perform a student on the football field

At a practice on a hot late summer evening, the camaraderie among the team was apparent. As one set of four was having trouble with the pyramid dismount, other teammates on the floor were encouraging. When ultimately the dismount was done perfectly, they gathered around to give hugs and celebrate the success.

“Especially at the beginning of the year, they are very supportive of each other,” Bryan-Davis said. “For the last several years, the teams have all gotten along very well and been positive and kind to each other, and I appreciate that. That means we’re getting good people into the program.”

She technically lost one of those good people in 2023 when Mikel Hager became the 69th WVU Mountaineer. “It was bittersweet,” Bryan-Davis said. “We were so proud of him; he had really worked hard to prepare himself for that role.”

But Hager was still the base for an occasional pyramid and worked closely with his old team. Bryan-Davis notes that all the Mountaineers have done so, since everything they do on game day is closely intertwined, especially run-ons, promotional activities, and travel. “They get to know each other very well; those relationships are long-lasting,” Bryan-Davis said.

Cheerleaders balance more than themselves and each other on the sidelines. Most of them have jobs in addition to their classwork — their majors range from aerospace engineering to nursing and mining engineering to physical education. Cheerleading is a volunteer extracurricular activity. Preseason practices are twice a day for three hours to train and prepare before classes and appearances begin, and then it’s six hours a week in the evening.

Two cheerleaders perform a student on the football field

Game days last about eight hours, and the cheerleading team begins early in the morning with appearances, walkthroughs, warmups, and then three-and-a-half hours of being “on” at game time.

“The time management piece is huge for these young men and women. They give up their time to do what they do here. It means a lot to us that they remain in our program.”

Bryan-Davis is not a full-time WVU employee. Her day job is teaching technology at Brookhaven Elementary School. But even after 20-plus years of coaching and another seven of being a WVU cheerleader, there’s still a magic about game day for her.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be on the field and see your team lead some 60,000 people in ‘Let’s go, Mountaineers!’” she said. “Once in a while, they’ll turn down the music as my team stands alone in the end zone, and all you’ll hear is the cheerleaders and the crowd yelling in support of their Mountaineers, and to me, that’s the ultimate in crowd leadership. I just love it.”