Former UAB, Ole Miss, WKU cheer coach to lead UK
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/UK Public Affairs) – Ryan Martin O’Connor, who built the UAB and Ole Miss cheerleading programs into national contenders in recent years, is the new head coach of Kentucky’s cheerleading program, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart announced on Tuesday.
“Ryan is exactly the kind of person we wanted to hire as we sought the next leader of Kentucky cheerleading,” Barnhart said. “She has a proven track record of success, brings incredible energy to her work, and shares our commitment to both integrity and competitive excellence. Not only that, she also has an intimate understanding of the proud tradition of this program and what it means to cheerleaders, this university and the Big Blue Nation. We are excited to help her write the program’s next chapter.”
She replaces Jomo Thompson who was fired, along with his staff, in May for a lack of oversight over the team. That came after a three-month investigation prompted by a parent’s complaint. Thompson led UK to numerous national titles.
O’Connor comes to UK from Western Kentucky University, where she was the head cheerleading coach and spirit program coordinator. At UK, she will be in charge of the 24-time national champion Wildcats’ coed cheerleading program.
“It’s a dream come true to be back home in Lexington to lead the best cheerleading program in the country,” O’Connor said. “I have watched this program my entire life and I can’t wait to experience these traditions again from a new role. I look forward to continuing our success and building on our game-day atmosphere. That’s what our cheerleaders and the best fans in the world deserve.”
A native of Lexington, O’Connor was a five-time KAPOS state champion and a five-time UCA National High School Cheerleading Champion while cheering for Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.
O’Connor was a cheerleader at UK from 2008-09, then at Alabama from 2009-12. While with the Crimson Tide, she won the 2011 UCA College National Championship. O’Connor graduated from Alabama in 2012.
She was a part of Team USA Coed in 2011 and 2012, winning the ICU gold medals both years. She was also on the Team USA All-Girl squad in 2013, when she and the team won another ICU gold medal.
While at UAB, O’Connor’s squads produced four top-10 finishes at UCA College Nationals, as well as in group stunt.
At Ole Miss, O’Connor’s all-girl squad claimed a Gameday National Championship, in addition to two third-place finishes, a fourth-place result and a seventh-place showing in the D1A Division. In Coed, her Ole Miss squads finished third and fourth in Gameday and seventh in the DIA Division. She also had group stunts teams finish fourth and seventh and partner stunt teams that recorded 10th and 11th-place finishes.
O’Connor and her husband Kyle have one son, Michael.