In the moments leading up to a basketball game, high-energy music blares outside of King Arena as the members of the cheer squad, in their familiar orange, blue and white uniform, prepare to rally the team to victory.
Since the 1980s, the Wheaton Cheer Squad had been supporting the college’s sports teams. The twelve members of the club meet in Chrouser Sports Complex every Tuesday and Thursday to practice cheers and dances. They cheer for most home games of the Wheaton football team in the fall and the men’s and women’s basketball teams in the winter.
The squad is currently led by Sofia Hernandez, a senior media studies major, and Aslin Tanco, a junior majoring in English literature and secondary education.
The team’s mission, stated on their website, is to create a community of women that can bond over a love for school spirit and supporting athletes. While the team is composed of all women, Diane Hernandez, a former Wheaton cheerleader who graduated in 2017 and is now the coach for the cheer squad, said that in her time at Wheaton the football players would occasionally help them with their stunts. Tanco says that in future seasons she is not opposed to the idea of having men join the team.
Audrey Salladin, a freshman chemistry major who joined the squad this year, said the team’s closeness is her favorite part. “These girls have become such close friends and confidantes. It’s made the whole experience so good.”
Cheerleading is not recognized as a sport by the NCAA, and therefore there is little opportunity to compete in cheer at the college level in the same way as other sports. Schools with larger athletic programs will often recruit and provide scholarships for students to cheer with them, but cheer program regulations and financial resources vary. Wheaton’s squad functions as a club, not sponsored by the athletic department. This means the co-captains work separately from the athletic department and therefore must communicate with the department to attend the football and basketball home games.
The club receives no funding from the college; their budget comes from their own fundraising efforts and is allocated to outfits, coaching and community endeavors such as team brunches or events in support of Wheaton’s teams off the field.
Because they are a club, they also have more flexibility in the games they choose to attend and what they can do as a cheer team. Tanco said she hopes that the student body will not only become more aware of the squad but that girls, in particular, will see it as a club with healthy limits and consider participating.
“I’ve really tried to go out of my way to make it known that we are here to encourage players,” said Tanco, “but that we also have our own boundaries of having to say no to the games we can’t do.”
The co-captains said that they hope to continue to expand the club’s reach beyond cheering at the games. Last semester, each member of the team put together encouraging notes for the football team. While they only perform cheers for the football and basketball teams, they also send notes to other sports on campus, including softball, baseball, and track and field.
“I want to extend words of encouragement, acts of service through little things,” said Tanco. “[I want] to expand what it means to be a cheerleader, in the sense of encouraging everyone to run their own race.”
The girls on the cheer team welcome all prospective members who may be interested in joining. The team does not participate in competitions, which, according to Hernandez, creates a less stressful environment for the team. The club is open to all students, regardless of past experience, tryouts are typically held in August during the Fall semester. Tanco encourages fellow students to step out of their comfort zone and try something new.
“Wheaton students often only like to try things that we know we are good at and that is only going to take us so far,” she said. “Coming from someone who had zero experience [with cheer], I am so grateful to past me for doing something in faith.”
Emma Carrington, a freshman cheerleader majoring in communication and sociology, said she hopes the student body recognizes the club’s mission to–literally and figuratively–uplift.
“The cheer team aspires to encourage the Wheaton College community and sports teams through their light and happy energy,” said Carrington. “[This optimism] is fostered through the community of the cheer team.”