BRADEN RIVER — Payton Diss wanted to be a part of it all.
The then-Braden River High freshman stood in the stands of Pirate Stadium, filled with maroon-and-black-clad students, and looked toward the sideline.
Her eyes weren’t glued to the players or what was happening on the field. Instead, Diss watched the cheerleaders perform routine after routine, all the while wishing she could hop down and join them.
Having just moved to Florida, Diss wasn’t able to cheer her freshman year of high school because she wasn’t a resident at the time of tryouts.
It was difficult for Diss to take a step back from the sport she loved. But, a year later, Diss finally got an opportunity to represent her school.
“It made it even better,” Diss says. “I just enjoy being part of a team, and I really like the competitive season. There’s such positive energy that just lights up the crowd.”
Diss spent the next three years cheering for Braden River before making the decision to pursue the sport in college.
Diss tried out for Western Kentucky University’s all-girl team at the end of April; she relied on her strong tumbling skills and ability to connect with an audience to separate her from the competition.
Diss, who also coaches gymnastics at Southwest Florida Gymnastics, was one of 33 girls chosen for the squad. Diss was asleep at the time of the announcement. She learned of her selection after a fellow cheerleader at tryouts came running down the stairs shouting and telling her to check her text messages.
Diss will travel to Bowling Green, Ky., for her first practice June 27, before attending cheerleading camp in July. Diss will officially return to WKU Aug. 13 for freshman orientation.
“Almost everyone I established a friendship with made it, so it was (exciting) because I knew I would be cheering with them for the next four years,” Diss says. “I’m just really looking forward to the new people I’ll get to meet and getting to experience a different kind of cheer team.
“These girls are so passionate about cheerleading,” Diss says. “With high school teams, you don’t always have that, but in college, the girls really put their whole heart into it and give 110%.”
Diss has family in Kentucky, and after touring WKU with her grandfather and attending a handful of cheerleading clinics there, she quickly decided it was her school of choice.
“The campus is beautiful and the people are so positive,” Diss says. “That really stuck with me. There was so much hospitality. I knew I wanted to go to school there, and, luckily, it all worked out.”
Diss will cheer for the Hilltoppers’ football and basketball seasons this year and participate in campus and community events. In addition, Diss hopes to be one of the 24 girls chosen for WKU’s national competition squad.
“I would really like to develop my stunting skills,” Diss says. “I’m always going to work hard. My skills were good enough to make the team, but you can never stop improving.”
Payton Diss started doing cheerleading stunts when she was 18 months old while attending practices with her mother, Amy Diss, who was a cheerleading coach at the time.
When Diss was 3 years old, she began taking gymnastics. She trained competitively for about 10 years before turning her attention back to cheerleading.
“Going to practice and doing stunts (as a toddler) had a lot to do with my success as a cheerleader, but gymnastics is what really got me going,” Diss says.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected]