Cheering on the Ralston Rams at high school football games was fun and competing in cheer competitions gave Nikki (Haywood) Kimura a thrill, but she never thought it would lead to a career.
Last summer, Kimura became the assistant cheer coach for the Husker Spirit Squad at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The squad is made up of the Cheer Squad, Scarlets Dance Team and mascots.
As assistant coach, Kimura works with 28 cheerleaders, 19 dancers , and six Herbie Husker and Lil’ Red mascots.
The Husker Spirit Squad performs more than 200 times a year.
This season the Husker Cheer team, which is now co-ed, will reintroduce stunting after almost a decade, Kimura said.
Stunting in cheer is advanced movement that requires acrobatics and building human pyramids.
“I can only imagine that adding stunting and the males will elevate the game day experience for Husker Nation,” she said.
Kimura's love of cheer began at Ralston High School.
She cheered for three years on what was once a stunting and competitive high school team.
Kimura never felt discouraged, even when she broke her eye socket and got stitches in her lip. Instead, it made her feel stronger.
“That’s why I loved cheering, that competitive and athletic aspect,” she said. “Those injuries fueled me more because it made me feel more like an athlete.”
After graduating in 2003, Kimura earned a degree in advertising from Northwest Missouri State University and put cheerleading behind her. She was working a retail job in Omaha after college when she heard about a cheer coach position at Hastings College.
Kimura led the cheer team in Hastings for six years. While there, Kimura said she implemented a new program that made the team competitive.
Kimura earned Great Plains Athletic Conference titles and was voted the 2018 conference's Cheer Coach of the Year and Dance Coach of the Year .
After talking to Erynn Butzke, head coach of the Husker Spirit Squad, Kimura was ready for a new challeng.
“It was something I couldn’t turn down,” Kimura said.
Kimura was hired as an assistant coach to take the squad to the next level.
As football season approaches, Kimura said she's excited to see what her second year as assistant coach holds.
“What we as a team get to be a part of is amazing,” she said. “The cheer and dance programs here are a part of game day. You don’t really get the full experience without having these athletes out there.”
After a year in the position, Kimura said she still finds it hard to believe she made it this far.
“It’s hard to put into words. I never thought one day I would coach for the Huskers. I thought it was a job that didn’t really exist for me,” Kimura said. “I’m so blessed and so grateful.”