In sports, there are certain moments you witness that can be described as extremely tense. Take, for example, the end of a basketball game when the home team is trying to come back from behind to win the game, or a shoot-out in hockey after the end of regulation periods. At certain moments, teams need an audience to help rally them into a win, and there’s no better audience than a cheerleading team.
Although the RIT Cheerleading team is better known on campus for performing at sporting events such as basketball games, it competes at up to three different competitions a year, according to the team’s Facebook page. Two of the tournaments are in New York state.
The team went co-ed between 2006 and 2009, according to Head Coach Priscilla “Lala” Fitzgerald. The majority of the team roster is female — although it is willing to have more male team members. But making the team isn’t easy. There are acrobatics involved, and team members should be in good physical shape.
“We are actually open to being co-ed, and we’ve had boys previously. [Some people] think it’s girly; we do all this catching and throwing and lifting of the flyers,” says cheerleader and fourth year Biomedical Science major Kelsey Beyea
Fitzgerald agrees. This year’s tryouts were held September 24-28, and she was looking for new team members. Among the qualities she lists as a requirement for interested students are: “dedication, spirit, and energy — a willingness to try new things.”
Fitzgerald, an RIT alumnus, said she made the team as a first year in 2003, and became the captain by 2005. She held the position until 2008. From fall 2008 to spring 2012 she was the team’s assistant coach, and she recently replaced Hysha Robinson, who spent a decade in the position, as head coach.
Fitzgerald says that one of her main goals this year is to have the team gain some recognition. “I’m hoping to get out on campus, to have those people go, ‘oh, you have cheerleaders?’… To have recognition that we exist with the student body.”
The team usually cheers at just basketball games, but Fitzgerald says anytime anybody wants to have the team cheer for them, “We’d love to show up anywhere and everywhere.”
Fitzerald agrees that the team needs more male members. “It’s hard when we go to competitions, because there’s not enough guys. Teams usually have six to 10 guys, and it’s hard to compete at that level when you only have two.”
Beyea also says that having more guys will “make flyers more comfortable, so there’s not just girls underneath.”
“It gives beginner flyers more motivation to learn new stunts,” she adds.
This season, the team hopes to do well in a Cheerleaders of America tournament in Columbus, Ohio The competition season usually runs from January to April, and according to Fitzgerald, the Cheerleaders of America tournament is always held in March. She says that the team has gotten first place in the competition for the past five years.
If all goes well, Fitzgerald is hopeful the team can have a chance at making it to the NCAA tournament in Florida.
Lesea Alexander, a fourth year Biomedical Science major and cheerleader, says, “We hope to get a really solid team this year so we can get there.”
Like Fitzgerald, Beyea is also hopeful that the team can make a name for themselves. “We want to establish a persona on campus; ‘we are here’ — like we exist. A lot of people don’t know, they think we just do games, but we do national competitions. The one we’ve been going to is in Ohio. But we hope to make it to Florida,” she said.
The cheerleaders said they practice almost year round: every week Monday, Wednesday and Friday from September to January.