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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Nothing to cheer about: St. Joe’s Cheerleading Team struggles to gain respect from athletics

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The SJU Cheerleading Team stunting in Daytona Beach before NCA College Nationals PHOTO: SAVANNAH JENKS ’23

I joined the SJU Cheerleading team as a wide-eyed, first-year student in 2019, excited for the chance to perform and practice alongside incredible athletes in Hagan Arena. I am now a graduating senior, former two-time captain of the team and two-time competitor at NCA College Nationals in Daytona, Florida.

As a new member of the team, I had high hopes. I was excited for the opportunity to represent my school on the sidelines and push myself as an athlete while training on the competition team. These hopes were immediately shattered my first week of practice as I quickly learned that being part of the cheer team meant not being treated by SJU Athletics as an athlete, but as a prop for appearances and responsibilities on game days. Over the next four years, I saw how the needs of all the other athletes and sports were always put before my teammates and mine.

When fellow students hear about my travels as part of the competitive cheer team, and the hours I commit to practice three to six days a week, ten months a year, they assume that, as with other members of school sports, I am considered an athlete. However, the St. Joe’s cheer team is categorized by Athletics as a “spirit squad.” Being a “spirit squad” means St. Joe’s does not consider cheerleading a sport, or even a club sport, but rather as part of a separate category that includes the St. Joe’s Dance Team and the Hawk Pep Band. While cheerleading is not currently considered a sport under the NCAA, many other universities are starting to treat cheerleaders like athletes. Rather than becoming part of this push for change, St. Joe’s has made its cheerleaders feel undervalued and overlooked throughout our cheer experience.

During my sophomore season on the team, I decided to try and fight for us. Alongside my teammates, I led a conversation with a former official from Athletics, with the hope that, among other things, we might receive priority registration pick times like other athletes. Other athletes are granted this privilege to minimize schedule conflicts. After all, we are also expected to appear at all home basketball games and maintain a competitive cheer schedule. This season, for example, we had to hold practices starting at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. due to class conflicts. This becomes a safety issue as the later the practice the more tired we are, and the more prone we are to injury. At that meeting, we were ultimately told that cheer is at the bottom of the Athletics food chain, and our desires are not a main priority. 

That much is clear when it comes to ensuring that we have a place to practice. Athletics staff have kicked us out of our normal practice spaces in order to accommodate the needs of other teams, or occasionally the needs of campus events. We have had to practice in the hallway, and have had to push nine heavy mats back and forth from Hagan Arena, or up the stairs to Flannagan, more times than I can count. 

There were times these past four years when we went into our assigned practice space and started practicing and the men’s basketball managers came over and told us to be quiet. Even though we had the practice space reserved, and they were cutting into our practice, we were shushed.

This year we hosted a recruitment clinic, which is important to our program as it helps us fundraise while scouting talent for our upcoming teams. This clinic had been scheduled with Athletics for over three months, and the night before the clinic, we had to reschedule it in order to accommodate the men’s basketball team. The rescheduling demand forced our coaches, Lauren Andrews Hanos ’04 and Kim Nichols ’15, to replan the event the night before.

At times, over the past four years, I have told myself that I am overthinking this. I told myself that since I am not considered an athlete at St. Joe’s, I am not one — and my teammates and I don’t deserve the respect we’ve earned. But, I know that’s not the case. 

While our coaches have done an amazing job growing the program and enhancing the experience for us, it is time for the university to honor the work we do.  I am an athlete, graduating from St. Joe’s with an accomplished four-year cheer career. Poor treatment can never take that away from me. 

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