Tuesday, May 18, 2021

MSU cheerleading squad a lifestyle of athleticism

March 2, 2017
Members of the MSU Cheerleading Team hit a stunt during the MSU Cheerleading Team practice on Feb. 28, 2017 at Jenison Field House.
Members of the MSU Cheerleading Team hit a stunt during the MSU Cheerleading Team practice on Feb. 28, 2017 at Jenison Field House. —
Photo by Chloe Grigsby | and Chloe Grigsby The State News

But on the third floor of the MSU landmark, surrounded by concrete walls, gymnastics beams and two drinking fountains that look like they’ve never been renovated, lies another MSU team.

On the sidelines

This team doesn’t compete for wins. It doesn’t try to score more points than the other team. It doesn’t get called for penalties. It doesn’t scout the other team days before a game.

They do train just like their peers, day in and day out. The team practices four times a week with separate lifting sessions and prepares for each game like their peers. Members have to balance being an athlete at a Big Ten university and the academics that come with it. They are a team.

The MSU Cheerleading Team has been on the sidelines for each basketball and football game for this academic year and years prior.

Potential members have to go through a rigorous tryout process that occurs every year in April, with the final cut in front of a panel of three judges.

“The first time you try out, you’re so nervous in front of those judges,” advertising junior Olivia Valley said.

MSU cheerleaders have to tryout year after year, even if they’ve made it a previous year.

Cheerleading and dance coach Elyse Packard said it’s a way to motivate her cheerleaders to “continue to progress.”

“Majority of the time, we do have people continue to make the team,” Packard said. “Every once in awhile either that incoming talent is bigger and the skill set is higher, so they kind of take over some of that, but generally it keeps us on our toes.”

Performance and look

Being on the floor of the Breslin Center or on the field of Spartan Stadium, the MSU cheerleaders are in the limelight of everyone in the stadium and arena.

Valley said trying out in front of the panel of three judges and the repetition of cheering at games helped prepare her for prime time.

“Standing in front of three people is very easy compared to standing in front of 75,000 at Spartan Stadium,” Valley said.

But to stand in front of 75,000 people or about 15,000 takes coordination from the male and female cheerleaders.

Cheerleader Jacob Micheal said his main job as a male cheerleader is to make sure his female counterpart doesn’t fall.

“No matter what I do, I make sure safety is the number one thing,” Micheal said. “It takes a lot of balance, so it’s working a lot of different muscles that I haven’t worked before.”

Micheal said he thinks the female cheerleaders have to focus more on the flexibility aspect of cheerleading.

But with the performance also comes the looks, where communication sophomore Jeff Snyder said is usually more focused on the women rather than the men.

“People are watching the girls, so you have to make sure you’re strong underneath her,” Snyder said. “If a girl drops, people are not watching the guy. They’re watching what you put up in the air, so you need to make sure you’re doing your best to make her look good.”

This is also seen on the female side. Business sophomore Lauren Kubiske said she agreed with Snyder and Micheal that everybody is looking at the women on top of the formations, not really the men on the bottom.

“We basically have to perform and look presentable all the time,” Kubiske said. “The guys are noticed, but it’s not like they have to do all their hair and makeup.”

Athleticism in cheerleading

Whether it’s tumbles or baskets, there are aspects of cheerleading that aren’t seen and can’t be mimicked in other sports.

Micheal said in high school, he would get “upset” at people who questioned whether cheerleading is a sport or not.

“Now that I’m in college, I don’t care,” Micheal said.

Micheal said he doesn’t really consider cheerleading a sport because of the true definition of what a sport is and what it entails, such as wins and losses or penalties.

Micheal does care about when people question the athletic aspect of cheerleading and said he gets angry when they disregard the athleticism in cheerleading.

“There’s a ton of stuff in cheerleading that everyone can’t do,” Micheal said. “It’s not important to me to prove people it’s a sport, because I know I’m athletic and I know what it takes to do it and it’s hard as hell.”

"It’s more than just an athletic sport, it’s a lifestyle."

Valley said she does think there are athletic factors of cheerleading, such as stunting and tumbling, that aren’t part of the widespread cheerleading stereotype.

“I think when people think of cheerleading, all they think of is the waving and the dancing,” Valley said. “But in reality, at practice, and even at games, that’s 10 percent of it and the rest is stunting and tumbling.”

Advertising junior Sam Bielecki said the people who don’t believe there is any athleticism that goes into cheerleading aren’t educated enough, but should be willing to hear the opposition’s argument.

A lifestyle

“It’s more than just an athletic sport, it’s a lifestyle,” Bielecki said.

This lifestyle involves everyone on the team and forms a camaraderie that turns the squad into a family.

“If someone is having a bad day, you can come in and your best friends are here to cheer you up,” Kubiske said. “It’s just really cool knowing you’re on a team with people who have the same mentality, like, ‘Let’s do this, but let’s also have fun.’”

Micheal said the open atmosphere on the cheerleading team allowed him to make friends with “39 other people.”

“It was super simple,” Micheal said. “It was easy to make friends with them. I just showed up.”

Like any other varsity sport, the cheerleading team not only shows up to perform on the court, but off the court as well.

The MSU cheerleading squad has attended a wide variety of events, Packard said, ranging from the grand opening of new stores to volunteering with Auto-Owners Insurance.

“We’re really... open to doing anything,” Packard said. “Really anything across the board that helps spread the Spartan spirit, we’ll do.”

For Valley, there isn’t one specific community event that stands out among the rest for her.

“I guess every single event that I’ve done, there’s been something about it I love,” Valley said. “Each thing has its good aspects.”

Packard also said there isn’t one specific event she prefers to do over others and she will do anything to get the cheerleading team out into the community.

She said most of the time, somebody will ask the cheerleading squad to come as a surprise for a birthday, retirement or graduation.

“Just to see them light up because you’re wearing Spartan green and have that name across your uniform, they’re just excited to see you no matter what,” Packard said.


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