Ryan Martin O’Connor is a force to be reckoned with.
Earlier this week, O’Connor was named the head coach of the University of Kentucky’s prestigious cheerleading team. Her hiring follows a team scandal in May that resulted in the firing of coaches including head coach Jomo Thompson, who led Kentucky – the winningest cheerleading program in the country – to many of its acclaimed 24 national championships.
O’Connor has big shoes to fill. That’s a hard act to follow. But she might just be up to the task. O’Connor is no stranger to cheerleading, the state of Kentucky, or being in the spotlight.
Born and bred in Lexington, O’Connor began her cheerleading career at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School on a squad that is not only renowned statewide, but across the nation. Those girls were (and still are) tough. PLD has been arguably the best high school cheerleading program in a very competitive cheerleading state. During her tenure at PLD, O’Connor accumulated five KAPOS state championships and five UCA national cheerleading titles.
This squad was so good that Lifetime decided to make a reality show about them: Cheerleader Nation. Ryan, along with her mother Donna Martin, the coach of PLD, was a star of the show and a critical member of the championship team. It’s posted for free on Lifetime’s site, and I will most certainly be relieving the early 2000s cheer in all of its glory in the form of binge-watching.
O’Connor wasn’t satisfied with just five national titles. She went on to cheer for UK in the 2008-09 season, adding another national title to her resume. Then, O’Connor transferred to the University of Alabama, arguably Kentucky Cheer’s greatest rival, known for snapping their winning streak in 2011. There, she also won a national championship. O’Connor finished up her cheerleading career with the USA national team, there winning three world titles. Yes, world titles.
From her world titles, O’Connor took the head coach position at Ole Miss, a cheerleading program that (no shade) needed some work. She built a reputable program from the ground up in her three-year tenure, and led Ole Miss to their first UCA championship, an unimaginable feat for a first-time head coach. However, O’Connor does not seem to be just another coach.
From Ole Miss, O’Connor accepted a position at Western Kentucky University, bringing her back to the Bluegrass. However, due to COVID-19, she never met the squad, and soon accepted the Kentucky position after.
O’Connor and her mother Donna were recently the stars of another Lifetime reality show, Cheerleader Generation, filmed in 2019. The series followed O’Connor throughout her time at Ole Miss and her mother at PLD while both coaches strive for a national championship while leading their respective squads.
Not only is O’Connor equipped with the athletic ability and expertise to guide Kentucky’s talented athletes, but she has also been in the spotlight since a young age. This will work to her advantage in what seems to be one of the most scrutinized sports and programs at Kentucky, especially within the last few months.
O’Connor hasn’t yet had the chance to prove herself at Kentucky, but from her track record thus far, she doesn’t like to lose.
The future of Kentucky cheer is bright with O’Connor at the wheel.