When Kayla Wheatley talks about cheerleading, the 2006 Evans High School graduate has the hardware to back it up.
While at Georgia Southern University, Wheatley was part of three national all-girl championship cheerleading squads that won titles in 2008, 2011 and 2012.
Wheatley occasionally wears two rings, one on each hand, but worries it would look too gaudy to wear all three. She’ll receive her third ring in the fall at a Georgia Southern football game.
“I do enjoy having them,” Wheatley said. “They’re something I can keep forever, even if I don’t wear them and just say I accomplished this.
“I’m very blessed to still be able to do this. I’m almost 24 years old and still flip around like I do.”
In addition to being a member of the collegiate championship team, Wheatley spent a year on the college’s co-ed cheerleading squad and was a two-year STUNT competitor, earning STUNT Association All-American status in 2011.
“She earned those rings, believe me,” said Barry Munkasy, who’s been a cheerleading coach for 12 years. “That’s quite unusual that a person can do all that at such a high level.”
Because cheerleading isn’t an NCAA-sanctioned sport, the 2012 Georgia Southern graduate cheered as a full-time student for the school from 2006 to 2012.
Wheatley first pursued a major in exercise science but switched tracks, graduating with a degree in health and physical education and a minor in coaching.
“I changed my major, which pushed me back,” Wheatley said. “That’s what I tell everyone: Make sure you know what you want to do before you go in.”
Becoming a cheerleading assistant coach in 2012 for a school practicum allowed Wheatley to get her coaching minor, but she stepped back into competitive mode when a cheerleader broke her leg halfway through the season.
She has kept that fire burning as a choreographer for Evans High School’s cheerleaders, beginning in 2011. This summer, she choreographed for Harlem High School.
“I do think they look up to her for her experience,” Evans cheerleading coach Adell Poss said of Wheatley working with the Evans squad. “I think they trust she knows what she’s doing.
“She has new and fresh ideas because she is so young.”
While Wheatley pursues a job in the education field, she wants cheerleading to remain a part of her life.
“It’s really hard to find a physical education job these days,” she said. “If I can get a job, even if it isn’t in education, I would still like to have cheerleading as my extra-curricular activity.”
In the meantime, Wheatley will begin work in sales with the Evans Fitness Club starting in August.
When she returns to Georgia Southern to get her third ring, it will be a much different experience than what she’s accustomed to.
“It’ll be hard, but I’ll feel accomplished going back as an alumni,” Wheatley said. “I’ve been in school every time we’ve gotten our past two rings, and this time, I’ll be going back as someone who is graduated, has a job.
“I may feel like an outsider because they form new little team bonds. I think that my heart will always be with Georgia Southern cheerleading in Statesboro.”