When she was growing up in Gulfport, Miss., Brandy Tatum never dreamed she would be cheerleading coach at a place like Florida A&M.
“I had a cousin that was coming for the business program and FAMU was one of my top choices, but it was out of state,” Tatum said. “It was going to be a sacrifice on my parents, who were educators and went to an HBCU, but they wanted me to have the HBCU experience and I told them I really wanted to come to FAMU.”
When she graduated from the university with a degree in elementary education in 2005, she was set on returning to her hometown and finding a job. When the opportunity arose for her to work in the Office of Student Activities, it proved to be an offer she could not refuse.
“I was working at FAMU and the cheerleaders had been put in that office under the coordinator who was going on maternity leave,” Tatum said. “Someone told them that I had cheerleading experience, and they asked me would I help with the cheerleaders and I have been with them ever since.”
Assistant cheerleading coach, Felicia Barnes, has been working with Tatum for six years.
“She will definitely get out there and show the girls what needs to be done and how it can be done,” Barnes said. “She has a close relationship with the girls and the guys that are on the squad and is a very hands-on coach.”
What sets FAMU cheerleaders apart from any other squad, Tatum said, is that they always want to be better than they were the year before.
“We want to participate in programs that are not just geared for HBCUs but participate in programs where we will compete against the University of Kentucky; we will compete against the Louisville All-Girls team,” Tatum said. “Pushing ourselves to be in that level of competition allows us to do nothing but continually strive to be the best of the best.”
Tatum said FAMU allows students to fully develop themselves. She believes the university pushes professional development and school spirit. Tatum wants the students to shape the type of cheerleading program they want while she gives the guidelines.
Alicia Turner, a 19-year-old sophomore cheerleader and journalism student, admires Tatum’s coaching style.
“To learn is to know, to teach is to master and to coach is to combine the two and include compassion for those you coach,” Turner said. “Coach Tatum is always pushing us to be the best as cheerleaders, students and people.”