The demand on college athletes may not be apparent to some. Universities allow for, and prioritize for, academics to come first, but put an emphasis on community involvement and necessary practices. Arkansas Tech University is no exception.
The dance and cheer teams, known as “spirit squads”, are 32 strong this semester, including alternates. Of those 32 members, though, only three are male. And while cheer and dance are stereotypically perceived as female dominated, Tristan, Jay and Colton are proving there’s not only room for men, there’s room for personal growth as well.
Jay Anderson, a psychology and theatre double major from Little Rock, said his first semester of cheer has been a learning curve, but “so invigorating.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a cheerleader but I never had the courage to,” Anderson said.
While Anderson always shied away from cheer, he hasn’t been a stranger to the physicality or the time demands the sport call for.
“I’ve been dancing for 10 years,” Anderson said.
Ever the athlete, Anderson also participated in basketball at a young age. The shift to cheer, though, is one he’s had to get used to; the terminology and technicality is something he has yet to perfect, he said.
That same learning curve has stumbled even the seasoned cheerleader.
Colton Watson, hospitality major from Harrison, has been involved in cheer since he was a junior in high school.
“I went to a competitive gym and I was awful – couldn’t even do a forward roll, couldn’t do a cartwheel.”
Repetition, he said, was the only way he learned how to master his skills.
“I started working really hard at it,” Watson said. “Always trying to get better. I’ve never been pushed in a sport like that.”
While Watson’s previous athletic career consisted nothing short of little league, fellow cheer leader Tristan Trundle, a rehabilitation science major from Pea Ridge, can second the fact cheerleading is as physically demanding, if not more so, than any other sport he’s participated in.
Track and field, football, basketball – Trundle was a successful, well-rounded athlete that spent his fair share of blood and sweat on a field or hardwood. However, cheerleading demands something all other sports don’t.
“You don’t have to have as much strength as you have to have skill,” Trundle said.
Male cheerleaders are generally expected to be able to partner stunt, or work with a fellow female cheerleader.
Commonly seen partner stunts include toss hands, where the female is thrown into the air and the male catches her feet, usually resting his elbows at his side as he bears her weight and keeps her level. A variation of a toss hand is a toss hand extension, where the male proceeds to lift the female above his head, straightening his arms and engaging his entire torso, to keep the form of the hold upright and tight.
Not all partner stunts can be perfected, though, unless the relationship between the partners itself is built.
“You have to stunt with them to get a relationship,” Trundle said.
And the more partners a cheerleader stunts with, the more refined his technique becomes. But it can’t be stressed enough; the level of skill and athleticism involved in cheerleading is something that arguably surpasses a few select sports.
Technique is not the only thing cheerleaders are expected to almost perfect. Just being a Tech cheerleader means signing on for study halls, practices, games, public appearances and volunteer work within the community. And coaches couldn’t be more proud of the time these students devote to their extracurricular activities.
“I don’t think people know how involved they are,” said Breahna McCool, Tech cheer coach.
Tech cheer leaders cheer at football games, basketball games and football games, as well as make appearances at pep rallies and other on-campus organization activities. So while they put in practice two hours a day, five days a week, they may also cheer at a volleyball game, basketball game and football game – all in the same week.
“It’s very time intensive,” said Aubrey Holt, director of Campus Life.
But to some, their presence is a necessity.
“They’re also the students providing support and spirit for our athletics teams,” Holt said. “I think they’re a great representation of the spirit of our student body, wanting to support Arkansas Tech and being proud of being a student here.”