About the University
By Kaylee Johnson '20
We walk in fast, in perfect unison, tumble across a mat and toss 100-pound teammates in the air yelling, “Go Red, Go Blue.” It appears effortless, but it’s the result of nearly 250 hours of practice and conditioning. Resilience, dedication and teamwork serve as the foundation for the USI Cheer Team, consistently ranking in the top 10 at the UCA College Cheerleading National Competition.
The road to a high placing is full of struggles and doubts, but this past season was particularly challenging. Between spring tryouts in April and crunch time in December, half the athletes left the team for various reasons: family or health issues, poor grades and lack of attendance. We were forced to adjust and reconstruct our routine. Coaches called on past cheerleaders to fill in. Every practice became a revolving door.
In early December, we had just 16 of the usual 20-25 athletes needed to compete at the 2019 UCA competition, when our coaches gathered the team and asked if it was possible to still compete. We voted and decided we could do it. But then, after a week off from practice, a teammate failed to return to practices. The coaches removed her from the team, starting the frantic hunt for her substitute.
When we found a replacement, she had immense shoes to fill. The teammate who’d been removed had served a foundational role in lifting the team’s flyers. But our new teammate swiftly mastered the routine and practices flowed smoothly again, until 24 hours before we left for Florida, when we lost her too due to a technical disqualification.
We were devastated.
Panicked and stressed, the coaches called every former, eligible cheerleader imaginable to replace her. One was willing to drop everything and join the team. She hadn’t cheered in two years, and she had 12 hours to learn the routine.
The four-hour final practice started in chaos as we shouted and guided our new teammate through counts and stunts. Miraculously, she learned the routine in three hours, something that had taken the rest of us three months to perfect.
Despite our struggles, our resilience, dedication and teamwork earned us a sixth-place. Though this year’s national season was filled with more obstacles, stress and disappointment than prior seasons, the payoff was far more gratifying. Not only did we perform our routine nearly flawlessly and place in the top 10, but we learned how to adapt to change, how to learn from that change and how to use that change to our advantage. The lessons learned this season are ones we’ll value for years to come. Teamwork truly does make the dream work.