For BYU cheerleader Anna Richey, rooting for the Cougars is simply a part of her DNA; her family ties to Brigham Young University go back to before she was even born.
Her grandfather, basketball All-American Joseph Richey, led the BYU men’s basketball team to victory at the National Invitation Tournament in 1951. Richey’s parents were also Cougar fans.
While competing at U.S. Nationals in 2015, Anna got a phone call. Her father had unexpectedly passed away. No one would’ve blamed her if she left the competition, but she didn’t.
She decided to stay to honor and tribute both her late grandfather and father.
Last month, Anna auditioned and received word that she would be able to represent the United States at the 2016 International Cheer Union Cheerleading Worlds Championship for her third consecutive year on the national girls’ team.
“It is the Olympics of cheerleading,” Anna said. “We compete against other countries and other all-girl teams.”
After making the team last year, BYU spirit squad coach Jocelyn Allan praised Anna’s efforts.
“She’s not one of those kids that thinks she doesn’t have anything else to learn,” Allan said. “Over the past four years she has skyrocketed, and that’s the type of effort that it takes to make Team USA, somebody who is never satisfied and it’s never good enough. She just wants to improve continually.”
Despite making the 2014 and 2015 teams, Anna’s spot on the team wasn’t secured.
“This tryout was the biggest that they’ve ever had,” Anna said. “A tryout for anything is scary, even though it was the third time.”
Eight returners didn’t make the cut, but Anna wasn’t one of them. She now gets to compete one last time before graduating in December 2016, just like her dad would want.
Anna can vividly remember that phone call at nationals a year ago.
After flying out to Florida on a Sunday, it was only few days into training that Anna woke up to a text from her mom, asking her coaches to call. Her father had suddenly and inexplicably passed away.
“He woke up really sick around 2 a.m. and started throwing up. Within 20 minutes he had stopped breathing,” Anna said. “He wasn’t already sick … so that was hard. It was just completely unexpected.”
The day before Joseph Richey passed away, he had a very typical, normal day. Anna said he performed surgeries, went to the temple for a wedding, read scriptures with his family and went to bed. A heart surgeon himself, Joseph was in good shape physically and aware of his health. An MRI done before his death showed no indication of cardiac issues, nor did any exams performed after afterward — further adding to the shock and confusion when he died.
Her coaches were set on sending her home, but Anna insisted on staying and finishing what she had started. She called her mom, who strongly encouraged her to stay out.
“It was a hard call … I remember her saying, ‘What do you think Dad would want me to do?'” said Roberta Richey, Anna’s mother. “I said, ‘I think he would want you to stay out there, working hard achieving hard things and doing what makes you happy.’ Stay and honor your granddad and your dad.”
After working toward this goal since she was a junior in high school, Anna also felt it was what he would’ve wanted.
“It’s been a dream for so long,” Anna said. “I felt like, I’m living my dream, I can’t leave this. And (my) dad wouldn’t want me to. If any of us were to pass away, he wouldn’t stop living. Even though we mourn, we live and we continue to do things that we love, for him.”
Even after performing at nationals last year, Anna had major reservations about cheering with the Cougar spirit squad for her senior year.
“BYU was his thing,” Anna said. “(My dad) loved BYU. He was a huge factor in why I even went here. I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I cannot go back.’ But he wouldn’t want (me) to stop living.”
Anna said she is grateful for her experience at BYU and for how much she grew closer to her teammates and family.
“I think that’s one of the reasons last year was so incredible,” Anna said. “As a team we were so close and really had each other’s backs. I look at that team or I look at my ring or pictures or anything from that year and it has such a special place in my heart. Between my father’s passing, injuries on the team and other circumstances that were given to us, we overcame all of it as a team. It’s pretty incredible.”
“I can’t even imagine what strength and courage it took for Anna to press on after her father passed, but I know she has made her father very proud,” Allan said.
The World Cheerleading Championships will be held April 21–22 in Orlando, Florida. Anna is optimistic about the chance to perform and represent the USA as well as her family name.
“I know that (my dad) is helping me in whatever I pursue and do,” Anna said.