Since the beginning of the fall 2019 semester, the UMW cheer team has been operating as a hybrid-team. In previous years, the cheer team had been performing strictly under the title of a club sport. As a hybrid-team, the UMW cheerleaders have been able to obtain some of the benefits that the varsity athletic teams receive.
“We get access to the varsity gym,” said junior Sam Bertsch, co-captain of the cheer team. “They gave us a trainer, if one of our girls gets hurt now we can say ‘Okay go to the trainer’ because we feel bad when they have injuries and we don’t know what to do.”
Along with having access to the varsity gym and receiving a trainer, the cheer team now is able to have strength and conditioning that can help them to build up the stamina needed to perform their various stunts and routines. The team’s ability to practice in this type of environment has led to an increase in the members progressing faster than they have in previous years. However, despite the variety of benefits that the cheer team has acquired, for the most part, they are still responsible for their own funding.
“In a club you pay for everything,” said co-captain and junior Kyelin Thrift. “We still have to fundraise. Athletics is not giving us funds and we still had to work for the money…they’re not giving us money yet because we still receive money from Campus Recreation for being a club.”
Campus Recreation provides some funds for each person but the overall amount per member does not cover for the total expenses of being on the cheer team. On average, the uniforms that the cheerleaders wear cost $300 and the shoes they wear for competition cost $100. Competition is another costly endeavor that the team must fund. After factoring in the expenses to register for the competition, the price of hotels and transportation fees, the competition itself costs around $2,000.
These expenses are part of the reason that the cheer team wants to fully transition to being a recognized sport by the athletics department. “Our goal and our reason for wanting to do this was so that our girls wouldn’t have to pay for anything,” Bertsch explains. “We don’t want girls who have cheered their whole lives who are excited to cheer in college to come here and find out that they can’t afford the uniform.”
This goal is why this semester the cheer team has been stricter with practice times and the commitment each girl can bring to the team. By practicing under the standards of an established athletics team the overall tone has become more serious and more intense, resulting in more girls leaving this year than in previous years.
“It’s definitely held to a higher level,” said Thrift. “We want a strong team with strong girls and being a hybrid now and hopefully being an athletic next year will continue to give us that.”
Despite the cheer team becoming stricter in how they operate, it does not mean that the girls on the team are not gaining the comradery with each other which is a common staple among many of the UMW club sports. Both Thrift and Bertsch expressed that this year the team has relied and supported each other more than ever before due to the stress that is placed upon them to succeed and set the framework for the years to come.
Freshman cheerleader Nicole Goff is especially passionate about her love for the cheer team. “I love it, I have gotten so many skills and have been encouraged to do so much. I feel like I have friends now,” Goff said. “It has definitely made my experience at UMW so much better.”
Overall the team wants the recognition that many other Virginia schools offer their own cheer teams. Under the rules established by the NCAA, the team qualifies as a sport and wants to be recognized as such.
“We have gotten great talent on the team in the past few years and we have a great coach who has volunteered for seven years,” Bertsch said. “They deserve some recognition.”