by Melissa Hay
At every College Game, you see the cheer team on the sidelines cheering for your favorite team. Whether coed or all girl, the fun of cheering your team onto victory and the thrill of being in front of thousands of people who simultaneously want to cheer with you is an experience unlike any other in cheerleading. The energy of the game, tumbling, stunting and crowd leading are part of college gameday tradition. So you want to be a college cheerleader? What and how do you go about living your dream?
The path to your college cheerleading dream begins now – in the fall – ending with tryouts in the spring. Each college team has its own timeline and expectations, it is important for you to do your research on each team and school in order to be prepared to meet the requirements.
Which College To Choose
Selecting the right college is a personal decision. You need to have an idea of your intended college major and what you would like to study. Your first priority is selecting the college that can provide you a path to your future career. Once you narrow down the colleges that have your intended major and location you need to look at the college cheer program. Prior to cheer tryouts, you may need to show your admission acceptance letter stating you have been accepted to the school. You need to be a student who can be accepted into the college prior to demonstrating your athletic abilities to the coaching staff.
Game day cheer focuses on leading the crowd with sharp motions, poms and signs. Stunts and pyramids are designed to grab the crowd’s attention to lead the masses to cheer for their team. Game day cheer has expanded beyond traditional football and basketball to include volleyball and gymnastics. Not every team program cheers for all these teams, it is important investigate and know the expectations of the season. “Do your homework, investigate and research the school and the program,” states Annette Laron-Pickett, Cal Poly Mustangs Cheer/STUNT Head Coach and Dance Advisor.
Athleticism is key. Strength and conditioning practices are a must. To build the stamina to cheer for an extended pregame and entirety of a game, college cheerleaders condition in addition to team practice. Understand the commitments of the program with conditioning, game day practice along with the amount of time devoted to appearances and if the team competes at College Nationals. Managing your time is key to collegiate success.
Attend Clinics and Know the Traditions
Once you narrow down your choices, you will need to contact the coach and attend college clinics. Most college programs post clinic and visit information on their websites, however if you are serious about making the team, it is important to contact the coach. Unlike high school based spirit programs, college cheer coaches make all decisions on who makes the team. They need to know as much information as possible about your skills and ability level. Some programs will have an athlete questionnaire that will allow you to provide the coach with your abilities. If a questionnaire is not available, email the coach. Darryl Lyons, Head Cheerleading Coach and Spirit Coordinator at Georgia State University reminds all interested athletes, “To introduce yourself in the email, provide the coach with your background, experience, tumbling skills and stunt position.” “This information should come from the cheerleader, not another adult or parent who will be asking questions for the cheerleader,” states Lori Moses, Spirit Coordinator, University of South Florida. It is important that the coach gets to know the cheerleader and what they can provide to the program. The cheerleader will be the one working with the coach and the staff, they should be the one asking the questions and learning about the program. Laron-Pickett adds, “Be diligent, ask questions learn about the program and what is expected.”
Another way to see and learn about the expectations of the program are to attend college tryout clinics. Clinics are held in the fall and the spring and interested juniors and seniors are strongly encouraged to attend. Most colleges and Universities provide an opportunity for you to learn about the expectations, traditions, and skills needed for college tryouts. Each school is different. Do not assume that all schools require the same elements or appearance with tryouts and game day cheer. “To know what each college is looking for you need to attend their clinics” says Jay Brandon, Assistant Coach/Skills Coach at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. At the clinics, traditions such as the school’s Fight Song, Chants and pre game activities will be covered. You will need to know and perform the school’s Fight Song for tryouts. This is a tradition and legacy with motions, movements and sometimes words that date back for generations. The Fight Song is something that identifies the School and it’s a moment of pride for the Alumni. The cheer team is responsible for leading and performing the Fight Song at games and appearances for the college and athletic department. Other requirements such as tumbling and stunting will be covered at the clinics. Since you will be working with members of the team, waivers and other paperwork may be required. It is important to know in advance what paperwork is needed, completed, and returned to register and attend the clinics. “Realize that all skills must be cleanly executed and performed on a non-spring floor and/or basketball court” reminds Laron-Pickett. This is a big difference between all-star cheer and collegiate cheer.
Due to the public appearances and interaction with the crowd as well as media promotions, each school will have specific gameday appearance guidelines. “It is important to look the part, make sure to research and ask specific questions about the team’s appearance and look”, states Moses, “Teams require certain practice and game day attire and appearance it is important that you look the part at tryouts. This information is given at tryout clinics.” If you can, attend more than one tryout clinic at the schools you intend to apply and tryout for in the spring.
Clean Skills Executed Strongly
College gameday cheer is a very clean style that is performed in front of crowds to engage them in the game. The stunts and pyramids are performed in a tight space on the sideline and must be able to be executed to draw the crowd into the game not to distract the crowd from the game. The athletes must be able to stunt and lead the crowd with signs and poms in unison to direct the crowd in the cheers and chants. Prior experience in crowd leading is not required but does assist greatly with tryouts. Brandon believes, “An all star (athlete) that has never cheered on the sideline has a disadvantage in my book, sidelines come first and are that important to collegiate cheer.”
Timeline and Important Items
Fall not only kicks off Football season, but also the fall tryout clinics for college cheer teams. Make sure to read the website for information regarding the clinics, register and attend the clinics. If you do not have the skills needed during the fall, you still have time to take classes to increase your skills to match those needed for tryouts. If you miss the fall tryout clinics, there are usually clinics held during basketball season or prior to the actual tryout process. While on campus for the tryout clinics, make sure to tour the campus and meet with admissions. Prior to tryouts, you will need to be admitted to the college. It is important to know all the pertinent dates for the admission process as well as the tryout process.
Tryouts take place during the spring semester during the months of April and May. This is a busy time of the year for seniors in high school and college tryouts are usually a 2 day process. Most larger Colleges require athletes to be present for a “live” tryout while smaller colleges may allow for video tape tryouts. These are important questions to ask and clarify during the clinics and in communication with the coach. Make sure to have all paperwork completed prior to arriving to tryouts.
Checklist for College Tryout Clinics:
- Research your favorite College Teams
- What teams do they cheer for?
- How long are the seasons?
- How many practices per week?
- What is the time commitment?
- Do they compete?
- Personally email the coach with background information and any questions
- When are Fall and Spring Tryout Clinics?
- What do I need to where/practice appearance?
- What paperwork do I need to submit or bring with me?
- How do I register?
- How much does it cost?
- While at the Clinic
- When and how do I learn the Fight Song?
- What are the running and standing tumbling requirements?
- What stunts do I need to perform?
- What are the practice, game day and appearance requirements?
- When are tryouts?
Typical Items needed for College Tryouts:
- Fight Song
- Stand Tumble
- Run Tumble
- Application/information form
- Admission letter