The campus visits are done. You’ve attended the tryout clinics and have the fight song memorized. You finally made the cheer team at your college! Your years of competition and cheerleading experience has prepared you for the next step, or has it? In just a few months you will be leaving the all star cheer world and become a college cheerleader. Transitioning to college from all star cheer brings with it new challenges and responsibilities, intensified practices and conditioning along with appearances and college events while balancing college life between practice and classes.
Each college team will require some type of summer conditioning to prepare you for your future demands. Conditioning outside of practice will become part of your regime. Depending on when you attend college summer camp will determine your check in date on campus. This time during the summer is to prepare you and your team for the upcoming season. “During the summer we had two weeks of 8 hour a day camps in order to get ready for NCA camp, recalls Amber Pellegrini, a freshman at Davenport University and former member of Pittsburgh Superstars. Pellegrini describes the daily workouts as “a strenuous daily workout at the gym in the student center and running a few miles a day.” Summer practice is more than just conditioning, it is a time to learn the sideline material along with other campus traditions. “Always remember to smile and have a positive attitude, especially when learning new things,” states University of Louisville Senior Alexa Wiggins and former member of World Cup. “Every all-star team has their own way of doing things, however, when you are joining a collegiate team, coaches appreciate their athletes to have an open mind rather than a set way of doing things.”
Prior to the first day of classes, the cheer team has many responsibilities in representing the University and welcoming other students to campus. Courtney Fernandez remembers a moment from her freshman year at Methodist University, “I was at the Orientation pep rally when other freshman students were asking me for directions around campus. After they walked away it hit me they will be in my class. I was so busy performing my role that it took a moment to remember I was a freshman just like them.” Molly Michaluk, a senior at the University of Louisville and former member of South Elite All Stars describes the role and responsibilities of being part of the team, “In the collegiate world of cheerleading you are constantly a leader and an ambassador representing your school.” Wiggins, adds “Make sure that you are approachable and knowledgeable about your University. Members of the community will always be interested in getting to know you and about your school’s sports teams.”
Practice during the season requires one to balance between academics, practices and games. Pellegrini explains, “We also practice 3 hours a day for 4 days a week.” “Balance between practice, games and class work does become trying at times,” recalls Fernandez. “Time management and prioritizing becomes key,” she continues, “College cheer made me learn to focus on my academics.” Fernandez is in her second year as a PhD candidate at the University of Alabama Birmingham and former member of Pittsburgh Superstars. College coaches have grade and GPA requirements for participation on the team. Each member of the team must maintain their grades to be part of the program.
Football game day cheer is one of the thrilling parts of the collegiate cheer experience. “I personally never cheered game day so it was refreshing, it brought a new aspect and love for the sport I didn’t think I could love any more than I already did” recalls Wiggins. Pellegrini describes her experience, “I love the feel of collegiate cheer especially sideline cheer. I haven’t done that in a long time and it was so much fun cheering on the football team.” Game day cheer requires a different skill set than allstar cheer, sharp motions and crowd leading. Wiggins’ states, “Make sure your motions are sharp and clean.” Michaluk continues, “It is important that you are able to lead a crowd well. This is something that is not necessarily practiced in the all star world, so it is important that when you are preparing to come to college that you are Game Day ready.” Many teams will hold clinics prior to tryouts to prepare you for the program’s game day style.
One of the most trying transitions from all star to collegiate cheer is the move from spring floor to dead floor for both competition and game day. Pellegrini tells, “My most trying issue was tumbling on a dead floor from a spring floor. It is a totally different feeling and impact on your legs. I had to retrain to tumble on dead floor.” Both Michaluk and Wiggins agree “Hard floor is the biggest challenge coming from all stars.”
If your college team is one that does compete at college nationals, this will not only add to your collegiate cheer experience but also to your responsibilities. Conditioning and training to prepare for the demands of competitive cheer while still cheering on the sidelines and attending classes becomes a challenge. “If you have developed a good balance between classes and practices during the season, you can adjust to the added nationals practices” states Fernandez. Wiggins’ cautions, “really take care of your body and health first, tumbling and stunting at the collegiate level both use more technique and can be more strenuous.” But the hard work of this transition to collegiate cheer is worth it. According to Michaluk who sums her experience and transition, “In the All Star world it always comes down to that one competition where you perform your heart out and give the crowd a show. It happens so fast and you wish you could do it a million times over again. Collegiate cheer doesn’t come down to one single performance, but you get the opportunity throughout the whole year to show off what you’ve worked so hard on your whole life to accomplish.” After four years at the University of Louisville, Wiggins’ describes her collegiate cheer experience, “Don’t get me wrong competing in Daytona and Worlds and winning was amazing! But the friendships and memories I made along the way are way more valuable than the rings I earned. So cherish everything.”
– Melissa Hay