Each fall, in nearly every high school in America, Friday nights come to life. Swarms of students, parents and fans roar for football players as they explode onto the field, transforming thousands of individuals into one undivided cheering machine. The overwhelming support that floods the stadium is no accident, as this Friday night tradition has been days, weeks, months and even years in the making. This is about more than winning or losing; it is about elevating school spirit experiences through sporting events, and it can change the climate of a school.
Athletic departments encompass a vast group of people, including the cheerleading team. This group’s role before, during and after games supports the overall mission of an athletic department.
Responsibilities of a Cheerleading Team
The first step to determining the cheerleading team’s role in an athletic department’s mission is to understand the five main responsibilities of a cheerleader: Crowd Leader, Spirit Raiser, Ambassador, Athlete and Entertainer.
As Crowd Leaders, the cheerleading team is the connection between the fans and the athletic team. The energy and enthusiasm produced by the crowd can rally a sports team to play better and boost overall morale. It is the cheerleading team’s task to unify the crowd in its efforts.
As crowd leaders, cheerleaders should know the sports they are cheering for and understand how to choose an appropriate sideline chant. As a group, they should begin sideline chants and also make organic chants from the crowd stronger by yelling the words in unison with fans. Cheerleaders preserve school traditions and come up with new ways to improve fan involvement.
As Spirit Raisers, cheerleaders promote and spread school pride throughout the year. Leading up to game day, cheerleaders can plan and execute pep rallies, decorate hallways with banners and support the sports team playing that week. They should encourage fellow students to show their spirit by setting a good example of school pride themselves. On game day, their responsibility as spirit raisers should be more emphatic. When a touchdown is scored or a basket is made, they display their enthusiasm by waving poms, yelling and celebrating. If spirit is low, cheerleaders should use tactics to increase excitement, including starting a sideline chant, and executing stunts, jumps, tumbling or pyramids.
As Ambassadors, cheerleaders should be model students, both in and out of the classroom. Minimum GPA standards emphasize the importance of classroom performance. Many cheerleaders are involved in other sports, various activity programs and leadership positions. In fact, according to a study conducted by Varsity Spirit, 60 percent of all cheerleaders hold a leadership role at school, and one-third of all cheerleaders are members of the Student Council. With service projects and community appearances, cheerleaders become the recognizable faces of their school. As ambassadors, they should spread school spirit and share positive experiences of being leaders at their school.
As Athletes, cheerleaders use their strength, endurance and skills to be excellent crowd leaders, spirit raisers and entertainers. Like other student-athletes, cheerleaders should practice and train in order to be in top physical shape to perform stunts, jumps, tumbling and pyramids. Cheerleaders use their strength to lift other team members into the air, enabling them to use signs and poms more effectively. Endurance is imperative for game day as cheerleaders should lead the crowd until the end of the game.
As Entertainers, the cheerleading team should create pep rally, pregame, time-out, halftime and post-game performances. These performances boost the overall excitement of the game, reviving the stadium’s energy and keeping fans in their seats. Performances can include cheers, band chant dances, sideline chants, stunt sequences and cheer routines to music. Fun, engaging performances that involve the student fan zone, alumni and parents spread school spirit and rev fans up for the next game.
Incorporating Cheerleading into the Athletic Department’s Mission
Each athletic department has its own unique combination of staff, coaches, students and sports teams. While the details of each school’s mission may vary, there are similarities that exist in most schools’ mission statements: Character Development, Academics, Excellence and Community. When cheerleading is incorporated into these components, all parties can benefit, resulting in a more united and supportive school.
Character development flourishes when coaches teach their athletes more than just the sports or activities in which they are participating. Well-rounded student-athletes look to their coaches and peers for examples on how to act and respond in tough situations. Good sportsmanship is one behavior that directly involves sideline cheerleaders. As crowd leaders during sporting events, they set a visible example to fans, students and athletes. If there is an injury, they take a knee. If there is a questionable call from a referee, they encourage the team to keep their chins up by starting a positive chant. They can also help squash inappropriate fan behavior. Cheerleaders’ outward display of respect during games epitomizes character development.
The most important element of being an athlete is being a student first. School spirit weaves through all aspects of school, including the classroom. Even during class, cheerleaders can continue to motivate others and set a good example.
Excellence in athletics covers everything from learning new skills to bringing home a victory. As crowd leaders and spirit raisers, cheerleaders are the team behind the team. They root for individual players, entire sports teams and athletic departments. Cheerleaders know and understand that school spirit is a driving force that can motivate a team to play the best game possible. During games, a sports team’s goal is to perform its best, and cheerleaders are a piece of that puzzle.
Athletics can bring a community together physically and emotionally. Athletic departments know that filling seats at games is imperative for an energized atmosphere, but understanding how to accomplish that might be a more difficult task. As ambassadors for the school and representatives of student-athletes, cheerleaders rally students, alumni and community members to attend games. In a study commissioned by Varsity Brands on school spirit, 75 percent of students who self-report that they have a lot of pride in their school plan to come back to their school for special events after they graduate. When cheerleaders host pep rallies and visit tailgates, they connect students to the game and players by physically interacting with them. Positive experiences turn reluctant students into engaged fans, and engaged fans can influence others to attend games.
For more information on cheerleading, visit www.varsity.com.
Ashley Draper is marketing director at Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA), a Varsity Spirit brand.