Cheerleaders fly onto the field, creating a community through high-spirit stunts
An electric energy flows through the student section in the bleachers of Kirkeby-Over stadium as high-spirited students chant, “Go big blue! Go big blue!” Their cheers urge the football team to run faster and throw harder.
Such visceral energy, however, would be nearly impossible without the 17 women and one man on Augustana’s cheer team, leading the crowd forward and serving as the faces of Augustana.
Donning blue and gold uniforms with big white bows in their hair and shaking pom poms, the women make riling an entire stadium look like a breeze.
However, anyone who thinks the Augustana cheer team has it easy is mistaken.
Behind the smiles and pom poms is a lot of muscle and teamwork.
“[Cheer is] a way to pep up the crowd, but it’s its own sport too, especially when you add stunting on the collegiate level,” said junior Bailey Franzen. “We have that, and it’s incredibly athletic. You can’t just be weak. You have to have muscles to do it.”
Sophomore Molly Sittig agrees.
“Guys are like, ‘Oh, all you do is lift up people’, and I’m like, ‘do you want to try it?’” Sittig said.
On top of two days of practice each week, the cheer team also devotes two days a week to strength training and weightlifting. Having strong muscles is essential to performing stunts, said sophomore Michaela Peters.
Stunting involves building pyramids, lifting women into the air, performing backflips and making sure everyone lands safely.
“You’re putting a life in the air, so you have to be good at it, or you shouldn’t do it,” said Sittig.
The stunts require extensive practice to master and demand not only strength, but flexibility, balance and clear communication skills.
“A lot of people say it’s about throwing girls in the air, but it’s about safety and getting girls in the air so people can see them, but being safe about it so you don’t drop them,” said Peters.
As one of their stunts, several teammates hold Jenah Hanson’s feet in their palms while Hanson’s leg supports the weight of Sheila Holbrook, who balances as she lifts her right leg above her head—all while smiling. Other stunts include midair backflips.
“The worst thing is when you’re in the air, looking down at the ground and coming down,” said sophomore Brenna Zirpel.
To ensure the stunts are performed and executed safely, the team communicates closely and works well together.
“It’s not supposed to be an individual ‘I’m a preppy little princess cheerleader.’” Franzen said. “It’s not like that at all. You want to work together and show off your skills.”
Part of what helps the women communicate effectively is the fact that they see themselves as a family more than a team. Sophomore Jocelyn Guenther says the social aspect of cheer is one of the main reasons she joined.
Throughout the year, the team participates in team bonding activities, such as going to UBG events together or hosting potluck breakfasts. In the fall, they paint pumpkins and go to the corn maze.
They volunteer in the community together as well. Recently, they helped out at the Sioux Falls Marathon, and, at the end of September, they hosted a cheer clinic for elementary school girls and boys.
“We’re our own team, but it’s more than just a team,” said Zirpel. “We’re there for the other athletic teams, but it’s seriously also a family for us.”