Jan. 22, 2014
For more Western Front stories visit westernfrontonline.net - Twice-weekly student newspaper of Western Washington University
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - By Alyssa Wilson, reporter, The Western Front
As the Western cheerleaders roll out the mats and group together, a mixture of nerves, anxiety, adrenaline and excitement run through the huddle. After a quick pep talk, they shout "Viks!" and are ready to show the crowd what they can do.
The cheerleaders provide support for various sports teams. Through halftime performances, timeout entertainment and cheering from the sideline, the cheerleaders are there to keep the crowd pumped up, excited and engaged.
The time commitment involved with being a member of the cheer team rivals the amount of time invested in a part-time job.
The team is often required to practice three times a week for three hours each, in addition to cheering at an average of two games per week. The cheer team easily puts in 20 hours of work each week -- not to mention the small details and planning that go on behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly, senior captain Tiffany Bodine said.
Senior captain Lauren Forbes has been on the team for four years and has been a captain for the past two. She said she underestimated how much time she would spend at cheer.
"When I first tried out, I knew it was going to be a time commitment, but I didn't know how big of a time commitment," Forbes said. "It's like having a job, but a fun job that I like going to every day."
The cheer program does not have coaches. Instead, the team has an adviser and student captains. This season, Forbes and Bodine are the elected team captains.
Adviser Katie Rothenberg does behind-the-scenes work for the team. She sets up appointments, takes care of paperwork, handles community outreach programs and is always available for anything the team may need. The captains are in constant communication with Rothenberg to ensure that no detail is overlooked and everyone is on the same page.
Otherwise, Forbes and Bodine are in charge.
The captains begin preparation for a busy year in the summer. They make season goals and decide which direction they will take the squad. Throughout the 2013 season, Forbes and Bodine have been striving to make the program more collegiate, professional and organized.
Some of the small, simple changes that have been implemented this season are things like tunnels for the players to run through at the beginning of the games and stunts on the sideline during warm-ups to excite the crowd.
"In the past we haven't pushed ourselves to do the extra things at games," Bodine said. "There's a difference between high school and college cheer, and our program has been stuck in the middle."
This team has the option of competing but unanimously decided against doing so because they would have to miss parts of the men's and women's basketball season.
"Being at the games to represent our school is our biggest priority," Bodine said. "We didn't want to do anything to jeopardize that."
At big home games, such as rivalry games against Seattle Pacific University and Central Washington University, the cheerleaders perform long, high-intensity performances during halftime. Each performance is an original routine completely choreographed by the team, Bodine said.
In the production of a routine, each team member's ideas are valued and incorporated, said Forbes. The 18-member squad is divided into three focus groups called committees. Each committee focuses on different aspects of the routine such as stunting, tumbling and dancing. The committee brainstorms ideas and then choreographs a section. In the end, all three committees come together and combine the sections to make a single performance.
With so many opinions, it can be hard to incorporate them all. But in the end, it is definitely worth it, Forbes said.
Although the captains have final say, it is important to get opinions from the rest of the team for most decisions. Second-year cheerleader and junior Erica Redman said they always ask for each person's input.
The captains get the teams input so they can see everyone's creativity come through in a single routine, Forbes said.
"If you asked anyone on the team, they would say [creating the routine is] difficult at times," Forbes said. "But we're really proud of the performances that we create as a team."
When there is a disagreement, the team handles it democratically. The two people will argue each side and then take a majority vote, Redman said.
After the routine is complete, the captains work with DJ Ryan Greigg, or "Ryan-I," co-founder of Blessed Coast Sound, a DJ company, to have specialized music pair with their routine.
A Western alumnus and experienced DJ, Greigg is happy to work with the cheerleaders, he said.
It takes a substantial amount of time to get the music just right, Bodine said. Sometimes the team will sit for hours making sure that each part is just right. Because it is such a process, the cheerleaders only hire Greigg for big performances. The next performance with Greigg's music will be during the men's basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 22, against Central Washington University.
The cheer team showed its dedication while cheering for the men's basketball team Wednesday, Jan. 15, as Western took on Seattle Pacific in Sam Carver Gymnasium in front of a packed house.
The game was televised, but whether the cameras are there or not, it doesn't make a difference, junior Ashlee Campanile said.
"[Before a performance] I get really nervous, but it's like an excited nervous," Campanile said. "The second you get out there, you're so excited to perform. When you start you forget all the nerves."
The hard work that the cheer team put into Wednesday's performance did not go unnoticed by fans.
"I was impressed," sophomore Seanna Sweeny said. "I cheered in high school, so I thought it was really cool. And the stunts they did I've never seen before."