In the middle of their fifth season since being reestablished, the Cal State Fullerton cheer squad is more vivacious than ever.
The 2009-10 cheer team is made up of 12 women, ranging from freshmen to seniors and rookie to veteran cheerleaders alike.
â€œIn my first two years on the team, I would wear my (cheer) stuff to school and be really proud, but people would ask, â€˜We have a cheer team?â€™ It was a bummer at first. People assumed because we didnâ€™t have a football team, we didnâ€™t have a cheer team,â€ said senior and four-year cheerleader, Brooke Groom.
Promoting the Titan cheer team and their tryouts consisted of posting fliers, attending student orientations and advertising on the teamâ€™s Web site.
The Titan cheer team was reconstructed to coincide with the 2005-06 basketball season. When the 2004-05 menâ€™s basketball team made it to the Sweet 16 National Invitational Tournament, CSUF was ready to bring back a cheer team to promote a more collegiate environment and bring school spirit back to the university.
Originally, Carol May â€“ who worked with the Dean of Student Life’s office â€“ began coaching cheer when the squad was reconstructed in 2005. But when she was offered a new position at Chapman University, the task of cheer adviser was too much for May to take on. After that, current co-advisers Sam Shen and Jennie Volkert were brought on as coaches for the team.
Over the past two years, the team has obtained a new outlook and began working on the their skills, as well as promoting school spirit. The team isnâ€™t what it used to be, compared to what it is now.
Itâ€™s a completely different program, still in its infancy.
The last time CSUF had a cheer squad was in 1992, back when the university also had a football team. Both Shen and Volkert were part of the 1992 spirit squad.
Back then, like the existing spirit squad, it was comprised of a cheer and dance team. Not only was the former cheer team co-ed, but they also competed. However, when the Titan football team folded, so did the cheer team, leaving only the dance team to perform at basketball games for the next 12 years.
Tryouts are held in May. As many as 60 to 75 women and menÂ attend the try-out practices in hopes of being one of the 12 members on the cheer team.
â€œI was scared out of my mind when I came to try-outs,â€ said freshman Courtney Ponce, first-year CSUF cheerleader. â€œI saw all of the returning girls and they were so much better than me. I was freaking out. But I worked really hard and now Iâ€™m here.”
Donâ€™t think first-time candidates are the only ones panicking about making the team. Every year, current team members have to re-try-out in order to hold on to their spot on the squad.
Once the team has been established, they only gather a few times for team meetings.
â€œOur first real practices are at cheer camp,” said junior Shayla Velthius, a third-year member (two as a captain). “At practice, we run, stretch, and work on our routines and stunting. This season we have progressed from running a one-mile warm-up to a three-mile warm-up. And our pyramids have gotten better since we’ve started.”
During the summer, the team travels to Santa Barbara to attend Universal Cheer Associationâ€™s cheer camp. There, the girls begin working on technique, putting together their stunting groups and establishing their bond as a team.
Shen has been coaching cheer for the past 17 years, 13 of which have been at CSUF.
â€œThis is the best group. Everybody gets along; itâ€™s crazy. This is the first time Iâ€™ve felt like that (about a team). Theyâ€™re completely 100 percent bonded,â€ Shen said.
â€œI have never had a better group of best friends all on one team,â€ said first-year freshman cheerleader Ashley Rath. â€œIt’s so amazing. This is the best team I’ve ever been on, ever.â€
You can always catch the ladies in action at both that menâ€™s and womenâ€™s basketball games, but their support of Titan athletic teams doesnâ€™t stop there. They cheer for soccer, wrestling, baseball â€“ anything they are invited to. Whenever theyâ€™re asked to get involved, they try to do as much as they can to let others know theyâ€™re here to support the school.
Although they donâ€™t compete, the team doesnâ€™t seem to mind. Being a competitive squad means the girls would need to practice twice as much as they do now.
â€œMy favorite part about not competing is just being able to promote school spirit. We get a lot of opportunities to be involved in events around campus that we wouldnâ€™t have time to do if we practiced as much as a typical competitive team. Itâ€™s nice that we get to enjoy ourselves (as a cheer squad) and support the other athletic teams,â€ said senior and fourth-year cheerleader Jessica Keck, who came from a competitive high school squad.
However, any full-blooded cheerleader could tell you that nothing compares to the exhilaration of competition.
â€œI like to compete. I did all throughout high school, so the downside of not competing is not getting to work out as much or have intense practices, but being here with all of the girls is really funâ€ said junior andÂ second-year cheerleader Christina Slater.
Coach Volkert feels that competing is something that could be a part of the cheer team’s future, but for right now the school needs to continue to build its collegiate-spirited environment.
â€œWhen the crowd gets involved in our cheers and dances, it is so much more fun. We love the attention. It makes our job that much more worth it,â€Â Slater said.