Mackenzie Lanham cheered for a three-time state championship high school program at Woodland.
There will be even more tradition at her next stop, though, as she signed last week during a ceremony at Woodland High to attend Columbus State University, which has won seven national championships in the last 20 years.
“I was a little hesitant at first. I wasn’t really thinking I wanted to go there,” Lanham said of her college decision. “I was dead set on Shorter because it’s closer to home and a lot of my friends are going there. But I met [Columbus State Head Coach Jimbo Davis] and he was very opening. He was really persistent with me. He really wanted me to come. He gave me a personal tour and the campus is beautiful. The environment is so welcoming and loving and it’s just really amazing. I walked into their practice and I felt like a part of their family.”
Columbus State University is a Division II school with an all-girl and a co-ed team.
“I met Mackenzie at Georgia High School sectionals. Then she came down to a clinic that we had, and from there, we just started talking a little bit and communicated back and forth,” Davis said of his recruitment of his newest flyer. “We were pretty impressed. She’s a very talented young lady. She’s very smart, very educated, very good skill-wise coming out of high school. You find very few kids coming out of high school that have the co-ed skills and the work ethic that she has.
“Her body alignment, body control is what you look for in a young lady. So she was able to come down and do the stunt clinic with us. And Woodland started co-ed last year, so she was able to come in and pick things up. She’s a very coachable young lady in the fact that she listened to what she was doing wrong and was able to make those changes.”
Lanham went to tryouts at Columbus State on May 6 and 7.
“At first, it was really intimidating because they’re all in college and I’m in high school,” Lanham said of tryouts. “They’ve been cheering in college and I’ve been cheering in high school. I walked in and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, so many older people,’ because everyone is 22 and 23 and I’m 18. So, at first, I was overwhelmed. And then I started meeting all the cheerleaders and they were really encouraging and really positive and really motivational. I started working hard and they started helping me and I got more skills. I started really thriving in the environment and I really liked it. Plus, the coaching staff is awesome.”
Lanham was a member of the soccer program for three years at Woodland and played an important role as a defender this past season. As a member of the cheerleading squad, she helped the Wildcats to an ninth-place finish at state as a freshman. This past season, Woodland had another outstanding team and was a contender for a state championship, but did not make it to state after a controversial deduction cost the team at sectionals.
“We had some difficulties at sectionals, but we had a great season. We worked hard, we grew as a family. We had a guy break his hand, so we had to fill someone else in. We had a lot to overcome, but we did it,” Lanham said of her senior year. “It was definitely my favorite year of cheer because we had the boys and the girls, but we didn’t see each other’s gender. We saw each other as people who wanted to work hard together and just have fun and win.”
Lanham also cheered for three years with the Legacy All-Stars in Rome.
“I have a senior myself so I’ve been watching her for years and she’s been amazing since she was young,” Woodland cheer coach Kathy Shedd said of Lanham. “She has really good leadership skills, and she’s all-around good. She can tumble. She can dance. She can cheer. She can jump. She can stunt.”
Despite Lanham’s cheerleading skills and Columbus State’s strong program, Lanham said she chose Columbus for several reasons off the mat.
“They have one of the best medicine programs and that’s what I’m majoring in,” Lanham said. “I was really debating on where I wanted to call my home and where I wanted to cheer. I wanted a good environment and I wanted to have fun because I don’t want to be stressed and worried. I just want to have a family like I had here. I wanted to carry that on to college.
“So it was kind of a no-brainer. It was like everything was falling into place.”
“We have about an 87 percent graduation rate for cheerleaders,” Davis said. “Our primary function is education, so I wanted her to take a look at the school and make sure she could get the degree and the education that she wanted. And then cheer to us is second.”
Shedd believes Lanham will be a great addition to Columbus State’s cheer program.
“She’ll do great,” Shedd said. “We’re excited that she’s there because they perform at all the Georgia High school events. So we’ll get to watch her perform several times.”
Lanham is excited about what is ahead for her and her team at Columbus State.
“I’d like to win a national championship. I think that’d be really awesome and I know we have the team for it,” she said. “I want to graduate, hopefully know for sure what I want to do nursing-wise, and I just want to be successful.”