Marching to the madness: Brownstown grad stepping into national spotlight with Purdue

As Purdue University’s men’s basketball team makes its 29th NCAA Tournament appearance, a Jackson County native will be along for the ride.

Kate Butt, a 2013 Brownstown Central High School graduate, is a senior on the all-girl cheerleading squad at Purdue.

Head coach Steve Solberg and all-girl squad coach Nicole Smith recently selected the cheerleaders they think will best perform at the big event.

Butt is among that group.

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“I have been lucky enough to be chosen for the men’s NCAA Tournament this year, and I couldn’t be more excited,” the 21-year-old said.

Purdue kicks off tournament play around 7:30 p.m. today against Vermont at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Butt will be able to add that to the list of places she has cheered during her four-year career.

Besides cheering at Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium and Mackey Arena, she has cheered at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Madison Square Garden in New York City, Sears Centre Arena in Chicago and Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

Those have been for Big Ten Conference basketball tournaments and road football games.

“I feel very humbled to be able to participate in such incredible events,” Butt said. “I have cheered at Big Ten tournaments in the past, and it’s so fun having a front-row seat to such exciting games. The environment is crazy. It’s so fun to see such die-hard fans from different schools. We get to meet cheerleaders and players from other universities, and it’s so cool to see their different traditions and fight songs.”

One of Butt’s highlights was earlier this basketball season when Purdue played in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

“It was a dream to cheer on the court at Madison Square Garden and meet sports legend Dick Vitale,” Butt said. “I was able to meet some truly awesome alumni from the East Coast and cheered our boys on to a huge victory. Afterward, we celebrated in Times Square and walked around and looked at New York during Christmas. It was such a surreal experience and one I will never forget.”

Butt said she also has attended several Purdue football and basketball banquets and alumni events, allowing her to meet former and current Boilermaker athletes and coaches.

“I’ve been able to see so many of my friends and athletes that I’ve cheered for go on to do big things in the NFL and NBA and support them in their professional career,” Butt said.

Long before Butt experienced college cheerleading, she started with the sport as a fifth-grader.

“Before that, I was involved with gymnastics, and once I realized that wasn’t my passion but I loved to tumble, cheerleading seemed like the next step,” she said. “My grandma was also a big inspiration. She was the cheerleading coach at Brownstown in the ’80s and my first cheer coach at Lutheran Central. I also cheered competitively outside of school in Scottsburg at Indiana All Stars through middle school and high school.”

After four years of high school cheerleading, Butt said she decided to continue with it in college so she could stay active and get involved.

“Everyone at BCHS knew I was trying out for the cheer team, and they were so supportive,” she said. “I remember walking down the halls, stressing out and even having the teachers wish me good luck. BCHS is a giant family, and there is no way I would have succeeded at Purdue if they hadn’t given me the right tools.”

A bid is required to try out for the Purdue cheerleading team. Butt said she went to a clinic, told the coach she was interested in trying out and showed him her skills.

He gave her a bid, and she went back for tryouts a couple of weeks later.

She learned the school fight song, “Hail Purdue,” and worked with as many collegiate cheerleaders as she could.

“I worked on my skills a lot at a tumbling gym in Scottsburg and with Lydia Maupin, who was a cheerleader at Seymour High School and then Belmont University. She was an incredible mentor and still is,” Butt said. “Preparing for tryouts was tough because I had no idea what to expect. Every college has different cheerleading tryout processes and expectations, and I didn’t know of anyone else trying out at Purdue.”

The tryouts were three days at Mackey Arena and consisted of physical fitness tests, interviews, cheerleading stunts and tumbling. Butt went through three rounds against nearly 40 other girls who received bids or were returning cheerleaders.

Cuts were made after each round. By the last round, about 30 girls remained, and 24 were chosen to be on the team.

Butt was one of the 24.

“The actual tryout at Purdue was terrifying,” Butt said. “I was shaking walking in. It was the furthest I had ever stepped out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know anyone and was being judged by my performance on and off the mat. I was going against girls from all over the country who came from nationally ranked high schools, and I came from small-town Brownstown.

“Cheerleading isn’t as big in Jackson County as it is in other places, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage,” she said. “However, I wouldn’t have changed any of it. It pushed me to be braver than I ever thought I could be and introduced me to amazing girls that became my first friends at Purdue.”

A few hours after the tryouts, a list of those who made the team was posted online. By that time, Butt was back in Brownstown.

“My brother was looking at the list asking what number I was, and I told him there is no bother in looking,” she said. “The entire ride home, I had convinced myself that it was just a great experience. Then he told me, ‘Kate, you’re on here,’ and I cried. I was so excited. I felt so blessed and honored to be chosen to be a part of a 125-year, nationally ranked program that I sprinted over to my grandparents and told them both.

“They both lived in West Lafayette in the ’60s while my grandpa went to school at Purdue and are my biggest supporters,” she said. “The community also was incredible. I felt so loved with all of the tweets, texts and calls. Jackson County has always made me feel like a mini celebrity when I get a text or call about seeing me on TV.”

Each year since then, Butt has had to try out for the team.

“You would think it would get easier each year, but every year, I’ve been nervous,” she said. “I just worked hard every year to make sure I was better than the last. Now as a senior, I’ve tried to instill that same kind of attitude in the younger girls so that we can be the best all-girl team in the country.”

Cheerleading has kept Butt busy year-around. The squad cheers from the fall through the spring and trains in the summer.

“Over summer break, we come back to Purdue four to five times and spend full weekends practicing nonstop,” she said. “In the fall, we practice about three times a week for three hours getting ready for football and volleyball games. We also have three workouts outside of practice a week and go to open gym twice a week.

“In the spring, we have basketball games during the week, so we practice twice a week and work out twice a week. We also go to many more open gyms to prepare for tryouts.”

Outside of cheerleading, they do a lot of networking and socializing.

“We go to a lot of alumni events and banquets,” Butt said. “We’ve been to elementary schools where we teach cheers and read to the kids to support learning. We also host clinics and competitions at Purdue where we teach kids from fifth to 12th grade proper cheerleading techniques and how to have the best game day.”

Butt also has had to focus on her academics. She is double-majoring in finance and management and plans to work at Cummins Inc. in Indianapolis as a financial analyst after she graduates in May.

“We are lucky enough to have access to the Brees Student-Athlete Academic Center,” she said. “There, we have free tutors, rooms for studying and an academic adviser outside of our major. Freshman year, we are required to have four study table hours a week, and after that, we just use it as needed.”

Butt said being involved in cheerleading has helped her academics.

“It has taught me how to prioritize my schedule and has given me access to some of the best tutors,” she said. “It is definitely tough balancing practice and homework, especially during tournament season, but once you realize you have 23 friends who are going through the same thing, it’s great to realize you’re not alone.”

Being a part of the team also has made her a better person, she said.

“It has taught me how to work hard, take criticism and how to work with people from different backgrounds and with different personalities,” she said. “I have met so many incredible people who have become my best friends and family away from home. I’ve become more confident after performing in front of 60,000-plus people and networking with some inspirational alumni.”

Butt said she wishes everyone could have a similar college experience.

“It has been incredible,” she said. “If anyone in Jackson County ever wants to become a college cheerleader, I would love to help. I would also like to thank Brownstown for being my biggest fan club these past four years and allowing me to represent them in the best way I know how.”

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Name: Kate Butt

Age: 21

Hometown: Brownstown

Education: Brownstown Central High School (2013); currently a senior double-majoring in finance and management in Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management and plans to graduate in May

Campus activities: Alpha Chi Omega sorority, Gimlet Leadership Honorary, Financial Management Association, Purdue Dance Marathon and Boiler Gold Rush

Postgraduation plans: Working for Cummins Inc. in Indianapolis as a financial analyst

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Anyone interested in becoming a Purdue University cheerleader is invited to a spring clinic March 25 at Cardinal Court on the West Lafayette campus. For information, visit, email [email protected] or call 765-496-7893.

Anyone interested in getting involved with competitive cheerleading locally, the Synergy Athletics program is based at Gymnastics Lane in Seymour. Purdue University cheerleader Kate Butt has been helping coach there for the past couple of years and will be helping when she graduates in May. For information, visit, email [email protected] or call 812-522-7153.