By R. Alan Richardson
For the second straight year, the Morgan County Cheer Squad will graduate a cheerleader to perform at the college level. Last year Kaylee Darsey received a scholarship to attend Shorter University and followed that up with a national championship. Taylor Pickrell will follow in her footsteps next year after making the All-girls Cheer and Spirit Squad at Georgia State University (GSU). She made the squad after two grueling and stress-filled days that tested her athletic ability, leadership, determination, and spirit.
According to everyone who has seen Taylor perform at Morgan County, she has all the tools necessary to make an immediate impact at GSU. The 18-year-old senior has been cheering for the Morgan County School System for the past six years starting at the middle school. She has been taking gymnastics since a very young age at Rockdale Gymnastics under the tutelage of Joe Ashley. He has been instrumental in her life as a mentor and coach after taking her under his wing.
Taylor failed to make the middle school cheer team as a sixth grader, but pushed herself and has been cheering ever since. She began as a flyer in middle school and as a freshman. She began working as a base and back spot during her sophomore year and worked as a base her junior and senior year. She said, “I think Coach (Darryl) Lyons likes my versatility and flexibility to play different positions, but it looks like I’ll be a base with them. That’s where I shine, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do to begin with in high school. They have a co-ed team and all-girls’ team. I will be cheering with the all-girls’, all-spirit, and competition cheer squads where we will perform at all home football and basketball games as well as rallies, orientation, and making public appearances.”
Her parents, Jay and Jarma Pickrell, are both aware of Taylor’s strong points. Jarma said, “She is one of the hardest workers out there and is very versatile by choice. She has a strong team mentality that says, ‘Put me where you think is best.’ Her willingness to sacrifice for the team and her persistence make her valuable to the team and the coaches appreciate that. We’ve always had more belief in her than she has in herself.”
The Morgan County Competition Cheer squad has grown and improved every year during her four-year starting career. In 2013 they finished 9th in the state, 8th in 2014, 7th in 2015, and a history-making 4th this past season. Under the direction of Denise Frost, Leslie Watkins, and Ashley Wegmann, the team has taken Region Championship trophies two of the past three seasons (2014, 2016) and finished runner-up in 2015.
Taylor’s individual awards include being named a Fellowship of Christian Athletes All-American out of over 1000 applicants, a Huddle Leader for FCA, and a FCA staff member. She will serve in these capacities this summer in camps all over the Southeast. She also received the Heart-of-an-athlete award nominated by her coaches for the person who best represents the core values of FCA. On top of all the awards Taylor and her teammates reached their goals they set at the beginning of this past season; win the region and finish 6th or better in the state competition.
Taylor talked about the tryouts she went through. “On Friday from 5:30-9:00 they tested our running and standing tumbling skills in front of judges. We then had to show our spirit off the mat and went through a long, intensive conditioning workout to see our endurance and stamina. There were girls crying, screaming, and even throwing up. Some of the girls quit, but I wasn’t about to give in. It was too important to me. After I made the cut on Friday we came back in from 8:30-12:30 to show off our stunts and cheering ability. We performed in front of another set of judges for our final evaluation.”
The girls were given numbers and told that their number would be posted if they had made the squad. Jarma said, “It took forever for us to find out. Jay was calling me every two minutes from home on pins and needles. It was stressful. When they finally did post her number and we knew she had made it, I cried. It was overwhelming for all of us.” After this the team was taken in for the rules and regulations as well as signing a contract.
Taylor finished up with these words, “I’d like to thank a few people that have helped me through this journey! I want to thank my mom and dad for always supporting me and having my back no matter how hard it can be. My little brother, Collin, who looks at me like I’m a superhuman and being my best friend! My coaches throughout the years who have made me the toughest I can be and always reminding me to not just be physically tough, but also mentally tough. Most of all, I’d like to thank God who kept his promise. In Phillipians 4:13 it says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and I believe that without Him, none of this would have been possible.”
Jay Pickrell is a parent that understands the merit of cheering and how it goes hand-in-hand with life. He said, “Her being a cheerleader is beyond what happens on the mat. We saw an example of that when she was running track as a 9th grader in the two-mile race. A girl collapsed in the grass during the race and Taylor sacrificed her place by stopping to check on her and encourage her to finish the race. It hit me. We weren’t raising a daughter to bring home a first-place finish. We were raising a first-place daughter. She’s got the heart of an athlete. We’ve tried to teach her that if she has God and her faith as the engine, everything else like courage, bravery, strength, integrity, her future, family and friends will all fall into place. And it has for Taylor.”