Some folks spend their days with the serious, gung-ho look of a drill sergeant. Others simply stay on an even keel. And then there is Suzy Thompson — all smiles and full of energy.
But can you blame her? Thompson has lived a dream as a longtime cheerleading coach at Macon High School and the University of Missouri, plus has survived breast cancer.
“My father was a football coach and so I grew up thinking I was going to coach football,” Thompson said, laughing. “I used to think the greatest sound was hearing cleats walking across the locker room.”
Thompson ultimately gravitated toward cheerleading, proving that a positive impact in athletics can be achieved in so many other ways. Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Thompson as a member of the Class of 2015.
The Sunday, Nov. 15 ceremony, sponsored by Great Southern Bank and presented by Miller Professional Imaging/Mpix, begins with a noon reception, followed by a 1 p.m. dinner at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia. For tickets, call 417-889-3100.
Thompson’s time as coach of Macon High School and the University of Missouri overlapped. She was cheerleading coach at Macon from 1978 to 2007, and her teams won three high school national championships and 15 state championships. She also co-founded the Missouri Cheerleading Coaches Association in 1986.
She became cheerleading coach at Mizzou in 1993, with the program enjoying yearly success – including a national championship in 1996.
Truman the Tiger also has won two national titles under her leadership.
Overall, Thompson took cheerleading in the Show-Me State to new heights and, even better, allowed more students to take part in an all-important team sports environment that builds life skills. For example, on game days, Mizzou cheerleaders are on site at parades and pep rallies three hours before kickoff.
“No matter what they are doing they are part of a team,” Thompson said of teens interested in cheerleading. “I tell them, ‘I hope you gain more than cheerleading (skills). I want you to learn responsibility and how to be a role model. Cheerleading is being an ambassador for the school, and it takes a special person.”
Cheerleading has long been part of Thompson’s life – so much so that, while battling breast cancer about a decade ago, she still found the strength to coach and attend games.
In fact, she became an inspiration.
Then-athletic director Mike Alden saw to it that Thompson was on the flight to Mizzou’s Alamo Bowl game in 2008, when her ongoing chemotherapy treatements made it difficult for her to ride the bus.
Likewise, then-Tigers stars Jeremy Maclin and Sean Weatherspoon kept her spirits up during Thompson’s chemotherapy treatments. A year later, Maclin, after catching his first touchdown pass with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009, mailed the two receivers’ gloves to Thompson.
All along the way, too, has been Walt, her husband who also coached the Macon football program for 30 years.
“I think the greatest thing has been the love of my husband and support from him and my cheerleading kids,” said Thompson, who now leads numerous community service projects, including Breast Cancer Awareness and Alzheimer’s Awareness walks. “I’ve learned a lot about coaching from him, how he handled situations. He is my voice of reason.”
Suzy is the daughter of Thelma and John Spainhower. Her dad is in the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. She was a cheerleading captain at Kirksville High School and again later at Northeast Missouri State University, now called Truman State University.
Macon was her first physical education job out of college, and she and Walt ultimately made a home in the small community with Walt’s daughter, Natalie.
It was there where Thompson became the winningest high school cheer coach in Missouri and co-founded the Missouri Cheerleading Coaches Association. Thompson has served as a MCCA penalty judge in regional competitions and as a judge of national cheerleading competitions covered by five organizations.
She took on a new role in 1993 after then-Mizzou athletic director Joe Castiglione recruited Thompson as the department’s cheerleading coach and mascot coordinator.
To understand her success, consider that Mizzou fielded a cheerleading team of 12 in her first year, 1993. The squad has since grown to 50 members, with five assistant coaches. In 2003, she received the Recruiting Award from football coach Gary Pinkel and, in 1997, won the University of Missouri Spirit Award.
In the past 12 years, she has coached the co-ed and all-girls squads to Top 10 finishes at the National Cheerleading Association college finals. Thompson in the past 25 years also has hosted a one-day cheer clinic through the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
“I’m really fortunate to have a great support staff,” Thompson said. “A coach is only as good as the support staff that surrounds them. … I’ve been so blessed with wonderful kids and assistants. They were positive and supportive … I’ve just been blessed with a lot of great people in my life.”
WANT TO GO?
What: Enshrinement in Columbia Class of 2015 presented by Great Southern Bank and presented by Miller Professional Imaging/Mpix
When: Sunday, Nov. 15 with noon reception, 1 p.m. dinner
Where: Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia
Honorees: As a Missouri Sports Legend, former Mizzou basketball star Jon Sundvold; former University of Missouri athletic director Joe Castiglione; former Mizzou/NFL defensive lineman Jerome Sally; Mizzou basketball great Al Eberhard; equestrian standout and instructor Gayle Lampe; former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Charlie James; longtime Show-Me State Games director Ken Ash; Mizzou team physician and sports medicine leader Dr. Pat Smith; Mizzou and Macon High School cheerleading coach Suzy Thompson; longtime Missouri State High School Activities Association director Jack Miles; Columbia high school tennis coach Ben Loeb; powerlifting champion Kate Walker; former Mizzou golf coach Richard Poe; Olympic race walker Larry Young; former Rock Bridge High School football coach and athletic director John Henage; and Mizzou super fan Alvin “Squeaky” Marquart.
Tickets: $150 each, or $1,500 for tables of 10. Sponsorships, including in the program guide, also are available.
Call: Missouri Sports Hall of Fame at 417-889-3100.