The Augustana Spirit Squad has established a new era of cheerleading with the addition of four male athletes.
Zach Friederich, Tim Weber, Kale Merrell and Lance Shaull, all current or former Augie wrestlers, made their cheer debut September 21, cheering the Vikings to a 24-0 victory over Bemidji State.
Never before has the Spirit Squad had male teammates, but sophomore squad member Sara Wallenberg persuaded the men to shatter tradition.
“I had to talk them into it a lot,” Wallenberg said. “I was surprised that they did it, but it’s nice to have them.”
Tim Weber echoed Wallenberg’s sentiments, explaining that he wouldn’t allow himself or his friends to back out of their commitment to join.
“We were really hesitant – we almost didn’t go,” Weber said. “I told them, ‘Guys it’s going to be fun. Don’t worry about it.’”
Once the men gained enough courage to attend the team’s three day per week practices, they immediately established camaraderie with the 20 female members of the squad.
The men’s tasks include lifting and throwing the women for stunts, occasional spontaneous backflips and riling the Augustana crowd into a frenzy.
“We had so much fun at our first practice” Weber said.
“[The girls] were super inviting when we showed up,” Merrell said. “They were happy we were all there.”
After the men were acclimated at practice, the team began adding to and perfecting their cheers.
“The girls can do more tricks while they’re in the air,” first year head coach Becky Parks said. Parks said a couple of the girls can do back tucks, backwards somersaults performed in midair, with the help of the male members.
“The girls go so much more steady when they’re flying because there’s so much more muscle behind them,” Parks said.
From participating in the girls’ bonding events, to surprising the team with Bagel Boy meals, the men have made every effort to fit in with the team. These gestures, along with their exuberance and willingness to try new things, have positively influenced everyone associated with the Spirit Squad, Parks said.
“The girls love it. They get excited when they come to practice. They say, ‘What new stunts can we try tonight? What new things can we do?’”
Parks hopes to make male cheerleading a trend, rather than a one-time experiment.
“We’re looking to recruit some of the football guys to come and cheer with us during basketball season,” she said.
The community Augustana promotes influenced the men’s decision to join the team. Friederich, Weber and Merrell all commented that they had the audacity to join the team because they knew Augie students would be supportive.
“Augie has made me a lot more open to do stuff like this. I’m much more willing to step outside [my] element a little bit,” Weber said.
The men say they’ve gotten positive feedback from the community, including fans and the Augieholics.
“The Augieholics really loved it and fed off our energy,” Friederich said.
Sara Wallenberg agreed: “It gets everyone a little more fired up, especially the crowd.”