New Cheer coach brings personal style and toughness to lauded team

New GCU Cheer coach Kori Boe's voice will be heard when practice starts in June.

Photos by Ralph Freso

The new coach of Grand Canyon University’s Cheer team wasn’t even a cheerleader in high school. She thinks that might be an advantage.

Kori Boe said she never got burned out from years of cheering and is “still on the upswing” as the two-year GCU assistant Cheer coach takes over a squad recognized nationally for leading frenzied GCU basketball fans and top finishes in national cheerleading contests.

She was a Plainfield (Illinois) High School gymnast who gave up small-college offers when she visited the Indiana University campus and felt the energy. “But my dad said I have to find something to do. He knows. I’m a much better human when I have a schedule and lots and lots on my plate.”

Boe found cheerleading, a natural fit for her tumbling skills and mental toughness, and helped an Indiana team win three national UCA College Cheer championships, the last in 2016.

“Mental toughness and the bond (with teammates) stand out to me the most,” said Boe, comparing gymnastics and cheerleading.

“I tell the team all the time, ‘Look to your left and right, these are your family.’ I just want to give them a sense of community and place. Maybe you are from another state, but it’s nice to have 65 brothers and sisters to come in with.”

On mental toughness: “When you think you are at wits end and, this is the hardest it can be – you had practice, an evening event and nationals practice the next morning – and you think you aren’t able to do that but mentally breaking through that … it’s amazing. No one can take that away from you the rest of your life.”

New GCU cheer coach Kori Boe talks about the upcoming year for the Cheer sqaud.

After cheering for an Indiana men’s basketball team during a Sweet 16 contest, she decided to take up coaching as a graduate assistant, then landed a sales job in Phoenix and became cheerleading coach at Pinnacle High School, leading the team to a 2020 USA National Champion title.

When she heard of an assistant opening at GCU, Boe wasn’t familiar with the University. That day, she noticed GCU billboards all over the city and heard from her brother, an assistant baseball coach at the University of Iowa who was once at Valparaiso, where GCU men’s basketball coach Bryce Drew played and coached basketball. It all seemed like a sign.

Brother Mitchell Boe has “the same energy,” she said, developing trust with young athletes navigating college life and demands of a sport. “We share speeches and motivations that we find, so it’s cool to have that bond.”

When Boe got to GCU, it hit her right away.

“You walk on campus and it feels like you got a hug. Everybody is kind, from the people who help you park to those helping people asking for directions,” she said. “And you are freely able to talk about faith. That was huge. We pray before and after practice and at events.”

She helped former coach Ashley Aquilina-Bechri lead a team that was a part of two straight national titles in the Game Day Live category at the UCA/UDA College Cheerleading and Dance National Championships, which combines cheerleading, dance, pep band and mascot in one performance.

"From the day I met Kori in her interview for the assistant coach role, I knew she was the perfect fit for GCU. When the head coach role opened, Kori was the natural person to take over," said Jesi Weeks, Spirit Programs senior manager. "Her energy, passion and love for cheerleading and GCU is contagious, and anyone who has the opportunity to interact with Kori leaves feeling both loved and inspired.”

At Indiana, there were more old-school traditions that endured, Boe said, while “GCU is forward thinking, changing and adapting to what people want, which makes it super exciting. Cheerleading is ever adapting. As more skills become legal, you get to do more things. That is what this school is about. What is the next best thing? Then capture it.”

But the public face of Cheer is always during games and why the squad earns a lot of support.

“Your sole purpose here is to be an extension of the Havocs and create the atmosphere that GCU is known for,” she said. “What I love about this team is they are so giving to the University. I think 95% of it is giving back and making sure that atmosphere is preserved, and 5% is left for them – and that is nationals. It’s when they get to show off their craft.”

GCU Cheer members have a lot of skills, but at many events, such as this Watch Party in March for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, it's also about enthusiasm.

Team members appear at numerous University events and games, then have practices for national competition that she said has garnered a lot of attention in the cheerleading community because of Boe and Aquilina-Bechri’s reputation as members of national championship teams.

The 63 members picked for this year’s team are entering a new era, now under the umbrella of GCU Athletics. Many receive scholarships.

“For so long, cheerleaders have been asked to be seen as athletes. I will be the first to say Cheer isn’t a sport – it is very subjective and political on the national level – but they are all athletes and deserve to be treated that way, so I think it’s a massive win for our program.”

The highlight of coaching for Boe is watching the athletes improve through the year, some coming in with wavering confidence but learning to be comfortable in front of a crowd and mastering new skills.

“I literally get chills thinking about it, watching them flourish in this program is what makes it all worth it, their little faces smiling after a win, and just having so much pride in what they wear across their chest.”

She says this team could be the best ever, elevating the game atmosphere and taking a run at co-ed titles at nationals with individuals who have skills from the first practice in June that will match those seen at the end of last season.

“The kids are hungry, they are driven, so I’m just channeling that to keep them from burning out,” she said. “I say this quote all the time: If you want someone to run a faster mile, give them something to run towards, not away from.”

Connecting to the athletes on a personal level leads to a mutual respect instead of fear, she said.

“An inclusive, positive mindset is how I approach things. I want them to walk into practice with a (exhaling) wheeewww. I’m home, it’s my safe space.”

GCU senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

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