The Mount’s cheerleading team cheers at every home men’s and women’s basketball game and they also travel with the men’s team from time to time. You can see their smiling faces as they perform at halftime and media periods. However, there is more to each member than their enthusiastic shouts and dazzling flips.
They are also Division 1 student athletes. They work just as much as any other team here at the Mount. Starting at 6:15 a.m. the cheerleaders practice for an hour Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, they practice from 6-8 p.m.
In the past, students have not taken the team seriously, thinking that all the cheerleaders do is wave their pom-poms around every so often, or that cheerleading is not a sport. To change this stigma, head coach Ana Ulrich implemented a contract that each member must agree to and abide by to stay on the team. They are all expected to exhibit the good qualities of a student athlete. As such, they volunteered at the Special Olympics of Maryland in the fall, and they also held a cheer camp over the summer for recreation services. One of the other things that the team must do is raise funds for their gear by putting on fundraisers and hosting cheer events. They’ve worked in partnership with Epic All Stars, to host a cheerleading competition earlier this year and they hope to host more competitions in the future, including collegiate NCAA cheer competitions.
With the combined efforts of coach Ulrich, working with administration to increase funding, and co-captains, sophomore Danielle Ulrich and senior Darla Hongmanivanh, working with their teammates to change the atmosphere surrounding the team, noticeable change has happened.
Co-captain Ulrich says that, “I don’t want to say ‘we are taken more seriously this year,’ but we are because last year was our first year of ever trying. So, this year we are taken more seriously, therefore we are given more opportunities to do things, to be more involved with the school, instead of kind of being pushed aside as just cheerleaders.”
Both have commented that in the past, during media breaks, they would be telling the crowd to spell out with them and the cheerleaders would just get stares back. Now, “everyone is spelling with us. Every time you see a flip happen or us doing a basket toss, you hear a bunch of ‘oohs, oh my god, wow’ and you hear it more and more each game, and it’s just rewarding,” says Hongmanivanh.
In addition to the positive public reception from the community, the cheerleaders feel that they are now treated more like Division 1 athletes. The team was given Division 1 priority class registration for the Spring 2018 semester as well as Under Armour warm-up gear. Within the team itself, change has taken a turn for the better and that can be seen in their practices. Typically, at practice, the cheerleaders will stretch at the start and then go through their routine. Now, not every practice is like this. Coach Ulrich values trust and accountability on her team and as a result, she allows each of the cheerleaders the opportunity to choreograph a routine and then teach their teammates their routine with her watching on the side, giving pointers. The result of this change in attitude is beneficial to the captains. They explained that because their coach is more involved, the team is given more freedom to do extravagant moves. As such, everyone trusts each other more and thus, “skill-wise we are just advancing more from last year, we’re able to do more.”
With the changing of public reception, comes the increase in the number of men on the team. The team currently boasts two men, one a returner from last year and the other, a first-year student. Both sophomore Cody Phillips and first year Taye Jackson tried out for the squad in the fall and made the cut. Phillips explained that they’re mainly there for lifting up the women, but that they perform and contribute to the team in all aspects just as the other cheerleaders do, except for when the cheerleaders perform their dance routine. At that time, they use giant megaphones to cheer out the chants.
Jackson says that he tried out for the team because his friend convinced him to, but when tryout day came, his friend did not end up going.
“The coach said she really needed guys, so I would feel bad if I just quit. I thought it was kind of fun and interesting, so I decided to stick with it,” he said. The addition of Jackson as a base turned out to be helpful for the team as the female cheerleaders are now able to practice more flips.
Coach Ulrich stresses that she, “would really love for more people to tryout, especially males.” She adds that “We’re trying to break that stigma of only girls. We welcome males.”
Though the team has seen improvement in both their public image and their team bond, the fight is still not over. They hope that one day, cheerleading at the Mount will be taken just as seriously as all the other Division 1 sports teams.