Stand Up and Cheer

Tucker McCarthy

I promised I would get them in the Maroon-News. Junior Merissa Porter says that there is never any mention of the cheerleaders. You wouldn’t be able to tell from their “nothing gets us down” attitude, but Colgate’s cheerleading squad feels underappreciated. Despite what some may think, the cheerleaders are not simply a reservoir for football player hook-ups; rather, they are the epitome of Raider spirit.

It is no secret that Colgate sporting events are notoriously underattended. The few fans that do go feel bad for the teams, but I feel even worse for the cheerleaders. What good is all the somersaulting and stunting when there is no one to perform for? They never ask this, but I do. The truth is, the cheerleaders are cheering for the teams, not for the fans. Unlike the teams that they cheer for, however, the cheerleaders never lose. The squad is truly unflappable. They never gave up on their gridiron men when the Raider football team blew its season opener to Central Connecticut. In fact, through rain and snow, the cheerleaders rooted on the football team for the next 11 games. For their efforts, the football players each got a league championship ring. What did the cheerleaders get? Zip, zilch, nada.

Oh, wait, they got something – they got their complementary tickets taken away by the Athletic Department. Sidelined with a torn ACL suffered during a practice, a frustrated Porter remarked, “A lot of the football players who don’t even play get tickets so that their friends and families can come and stare at their asses for three hours, but the cheerleaders get none.” Saying this with a smile, Porter fosters no hostility towards the players she urges on; rather, she, like the rest of the squad, just wants some respect.

Unfortunately for the cheerleaders, it’s what we don’t see that deserves the most admiration. The team arrives on an empty campus in mid-August to begin its preseason training. Seven months later, the season is over. Without the demand for retribution, senior cheerleader Greg Stevens observed, “That’s a long season for any sport – especially one not technically recognized as varsity.” Stevens, however, humbly understates the cheerleader’s dedication.

Practicing Monday through Friday over two full seasons (football and men’s and women’s basketball), the cheer team spends the bulk of its two-hour sessions perfecting the timing and technique that is required for stunting and pyramid building. Repeating one element for an entire practice is not uncommon. The sheer monotony would be enough to get anyone down, but not these uppity girls and boys. They smile through the bumps and bruises that accompany failed basket tosses and botched hand-springs. Fortunately, coach Jill Strand emphasizes safety so that the amount and severity of injuries is minimal.

In addition to stacking, stunting and safety, the cheerleaders spend a lot of time on synchronization. Perfecting choreography for fight songs, band cheers and specialty dances is essential to the artistic aspect of cheerleading. Senior captain Megan Sobel stresses not only the unity, but also the uniqueness of her team. “No one is a benchwarmer. Everyone participates and is crucial to our repertoire.”

Adding to Sobel’s comments, Strand likens the cheer dynamic to a house of cards: “If one part goes down, it all goes down.”

From the top of the pyramid to the bottom, a great deal of pressure rests on the shoulders of these athletes. Each girl assumes a responsibility to her teammates and her university to be both prepared and enthusiastic. Equally so, the male cheerleaders pledge an oath of fortitude and dependability. The lives of their female teammates are literally in the palms of their hands. Among history’s most stereotyped people, male cheerleaders are often unparalleled athletes.

“Cheerleading is a lot tougher than most would think,” says Stevens. “It takes a lot of endurance and strength to be under every stunt, throw girls higher and higher, and hold a girl up with one arm – all without being injured.” Most of the work put in by these men and women goes unseen. What is seen, however, is often underappreciated.

With the men’s basketball team’s loss to Lehigh in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament, the cheering season came to a quiet end. This was probably a good thing – the bodies and voices of these 18 girls and four boys now have some time to recuperate. This team deserves recognition simply for existing, but its coach points out what they are really due: respect as student-athletes. Colgate’s cheerleaders support the teams that represent this University. That is a lot more than any of us can say. This team deserves it, so give them and H and A and N and D.

The Maroon-News sports page acknowledges sports that anyone can play, sports like intramural dodgeball, ultimate Frisbee and lacrosse. But, as some of the cheerleaders have pointed out to me, it never mentions cheerleading. So, I made them a promise that I would get them it in. Here you go cheerleaders: welcome to the newspaper.