Lucas Vega • Staff Writer
There are few images more synonymous with American sports culture than the cheerleader. The uniforms, pom-poms and face paint are all as recognizable as the games themselves. The job of a cheerleader is to embody the spirit of the game and to express this spirit in their performance. Sports fans in America knows this, and many would agree that cheerleaders are an integral supplement to the competition. What some people may not know, however, is that cheerleaders, including those at UT Tyler, have competitions of their own.
“People see us cheering at every game on campus, but many don’t realize that we train every day for our own competitions,” UT Tyler freshman cheerleader Bethany Alexander said.
Hailing from Kemp Texas, Alexander has been involved with cheer for sixteen years. While others may be shocked by the size of this number, she maintains that it’s commonplace for the activity. However, as she progressed in the sport, it dramatically increased in difficulty.
“So, we do stunts, which involves the advanced dangerous stuff, like throwing and catching people,” Alexander said. “Stunt is really difficult at the college level because it is really trying to help cheer to become an NCAA sport. It’s trying to show the difficulty of our practice. Many people think we just stand on the sidelines and cheer, but people don’t realize the amount of athleticism that goes into our competitions.”
Every year, collegiate stunt groups from around the country compete in STUNT, a competition hosted by the National Cheerleaders Association that determines a team's placing in nationals. While some sports have playoffs over the course of several weeks, Alexander says cheerleading playoffs are all squished into one day. She says it’s what the UT Tyler cheerleaders train so hard for.
“We don’t go to our practices to learn chants for games,” Alexander said. “We are expected to get those down on our own. We go to practice to learn new stunts, and these always involve throwing and balancing people, which takes long hours to master. It’s a lot of hard work that most people don’t see.”
Their schedule is very busy, with the majority of days containing both a practice and a 6 a.m. workout on top of classes. The UT Tyler cheerleaders are also expected to cheer at every sporting event on campus, including weekend games. While this rigorous routine seems tiring, Bethany says the stunt group must stay alert and attentive at practice, as cheer can be a very dangerous sport.
“I’m a base, which means that I help hold up the person in the air,” Alexander said. “If I mess up, that person could come crashing down and either break something or get a concussion. I’m also putting myself at risk by not paying attention because you don’t need a strong impact to the head to get a head injury. If I catch somebody wrong, the whiplash experience can leave my head concussed. In fact, our backspot is actually the recent one that got a concussion, not the flyer.”
The message of Alexander’s anecdotes are only fortified by data. 31% of all cheer-related injuries are from concussions, with 78% of them occurring in practice. Alexander is aware of these numbers and takes great pride in her supporting role.
“Being a base isn’t a position for glory, but it’s awesome if you love being a part of a team,” Alexander said. “The adoration from a crowd is never something I strived to get. All I care about is the support from my teammates. You can’t be a selfish person in cheer, no matter if you’re a base, flyer or spotter. We all depend on each other, and I love the sport for that.”
Her hours are long, practices are stressful, competitions are intense and there is always a game for her to attend. Yet Alexander loves what she does because it’s never just her. For Alexander, the teamwork and camaraderie that comes with being a UT Tyler cheerleader brings her enough joy to persevere through it all.