Linda Gooch is starting her 30th season as the coach of UCF’s nationally respected cheerleading team. Since her squad began competing in the national championships in 1994, the Knights have finished in the top five 15 times, and in 2003 won their first national crown, ending the University of Kentucky’s streak of eight-consecutive titles. In April, Gooch and the members of the 2003 team were inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame.
In 2007, UCF claimed its second national championship, outlasting several SEC schools. During the 2007-08 season the team received additional national exposure when it was featured in a six-part television documentary that followed the team as it prepared to defend its national title. In 2011, Gooch was selected as the recipient of the Gene Moeller Award, which was presented at the ESPN College National Championships to recognize the college cheerleading administrator/coach of the year.
How did you first become part of UCF’s cheerleading tradition?
When I came to UCF, cheerleading was just beginning to transform from pom-pom girls to the more acrobatic alternative gymnastics that you see today. I was reluctant, but a good friend from high school who had also gone to UCF kept encouraging me so I went out for the team and was selected in the fall of 1980. Interesting how a seemingly insignificant event like trying out for the cheerleading team can change your life.
When did you realize you wanted coaching to be your career?
Growing up I was a gymnast, and from the time I was in middle school I always stayed around to help spot and coach the younger kids. This continued as I moved through high school, and by the time I was at UCF I was working as a gymnastics coach to help pay for school. I don’t think that I viewed coaching as an occupation or work – it came easy. It was like breathing. I didn’t have to think about it, I just did it. After graduation I taught 8th grade social studies and coached the UCF cheerleaders after school. After about 10 years of doing both I had to make a decision, so I chose to coach full time at UCF.
What does it take to be a good cheerleader?
We have a coed team at UCF. As far as skills for the team, overall athleticism and strength is the basis for most of the men. I have actually recruited a number of men from other sports. One of the young men on my team this year was the Highland County Offensive Player of the Year in high school football and he can dunk a basketball. For the women, at the competitive level of our UCF program most of these young ladies come with a good deal of gymnastics skill – and quite frankly they have to be a bit fearless.
What is the key to being a successful coach?
Discipline. Nothing happens without it.
Who inspired your achievements?
My husband, Alan, was a football coach at UCF for more than 20 years. He was always such a great motivator with his players. He was disciplined and knew how to work hard but was enthusiastic and able to keep it fun. I had a great opportunity to watch and learn from the success that he had with his football players.
What accomplishments have you been most proud of at UCF?
Certainly our national championships in 2003 and 2007 were wonderful milestones for our program, but as far as coaching success or achievement I don’t know if you can really measure your successes as a coach or teacher until about 10 or 15 years later when you see what your students or team members did with the principles that you taught them.
That is one of the great things about having been at UCF for so many years. I have the chance to watch young men and women soar to even greater heights in their life after their time on our team and have been fortunate in many instances to have them return to say that their experience as a member of our team truly made a difference in their lives.
In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2003 national championship, those 18 team members were inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame. That team had a 100 percent graduation rate with all 18 going on to receive their college degree. One went on to medical school and is now a surgeon, one went to law school and is an attorney at a prominent law firm in town, three are teachers, one is a pharmacist, another is a firefighter, and still another is an Orange County deputy. They continue to bring honor to our program and our university even today and that is something to really be proud of.
Tell us a little about your family.
My parents, Norman and Jane Labbe, are season ticket holders for football and basketball. I don’t know if they have missed a single UCF home football game since I was a cheerleader back in the early 80s. My husband and I met as students at UCF. Alan was a defensive back on the football team. He now owns his own commercial real estate company, TIZON Commercial, and is working with the Orlando Sports Foundation to bring a bowl game to the UCF campus in 2014. We have been blessed with two great sons who are diehard UCF fans. Zach, 15, is a sophomore on the swim team at University High School, and Noah, 12, is in the 7th grade and plays basketball.
What do you like about your job at UCF?
I love the challenge of starting from the beginning of the season and building a team every year. I absolutely can’t wait to see what the season will bring. There is no telling what heights this team can reach and I can’t wait to challenge them to come together and unselfishly work toward a common goal.