After a long, thought out process, Early High School’s Mary Elisabeth “Libby” Underwood made her college decision final. The senior had many options but decided to head to Oklahoma Baptist University this fall to continue to cheer for the Bison.

Underwood, who cheered for Early all four years in high school, is the first student athlete from Brown County to sign a national letter of intent for competitive cheerleading. Underwood also lettered in track and softball at Early, but cheer is her first love.

The daughter of Leo and Lisa Underwood, Libby considered many different options before making her decision, including looking at some larger Division I schools, along with local ones as well.

“It had been a busy process even going back to when I was a freshman,” explained Underwood. “I was looking at many different colleges and exploring all my options with my mom. I began to narrow it down some and picked four to visit originally. I visited both Alabama and Ole Miss a couple of times each and took visits to Tarleton State in Stephenville and Gannon University in Pennsylvania.

“At that time Oklahoma Baptist wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t know about it until my brother visited there for baseball and that’s when they showed interest in me. From there they invited me to a cheer clinic and then had me tryout. Everything just fell into place for me.”

Underwood attended an Elite Recruitment Clinic at OBU in October and once she was on campus for the visits, the choice became a no brainer for her.

“The cheer coach and the cheer team just really fit my preferences,” said Underwood. “They had what I was looking for in a school. I wanted it to feel like family. The school wasn’t too big or too small. It was just the right size for me. When you’re there you just feel like you are really a big part of the school and not just another person in a big flood of people. It feels like home and it’s a great place.”

Located in Shawnee, Oklahoma and established in 1910, OBU is a Division II school that is a member of the Great American Conference (GAC). OBU claims 10 national championships in six different sports, including men’s basketball, outdoor track and field for both men and women, women’s indoor track and field, and both men and women’s swimming and diving.

Underwood began cheering competitively at age 7 with SEAL CheerZone, under the direction of Kristin Wade, who also assists the Early High School cheerleaders.

In 2016, Underwood and the Early cheer squad placed third as a team in the first UIL State Spirit Championships.

“We have many talented girls at EHS and on my All Star Cheer Team at SEAL,” Underwood said. “I hope this will motivate and encourage them to continue to pursue cheer as they look to their future.”

Diagnosed with scoliosis in her early childhood, Libby’s parents believed gymnastics would keep her core strong and provided the best way to keep her healthy. Therefore, being on the gymnastics team for five years and the competitive cheer teams at SEAL was always a priority.

“Competitive cheer combines my love of performing with the thrill of competing as an athlete: tumbling, jumps, dance and cheer,” Underwood said.

In seventh grade, however, Underwood was forced to undergo spinal surgery.

“I was diagnosed with scoliosis early in my childhood and as I grew, especially in fifth grade through seventh grade, it became so severe that I had to have spinal surgery in the seventh grade,” Underwood said. “I have 10 fused vertebrae. Dr. Geck at Seton Spine & Scoliosis in Austin changed my life.”

With her gymnastics career in doubt after surgery, Underwood fully recovered and qualified for the Junior Olympic Tumbling and Trampoline Nationals just seven months after the operation. Three months later, she won a silver medal in tumbling at nationals.