Go Pioneers!

Cheerleaders bring high-flying energy to home games

by Elise Gibson

The new Smith Spirit squad aims to keep fans energized at basketball and rugby games.

As point guard Anna Veltri ’11 nabs the ball and begins racing down the court, the Smith Spirit cheer squad goes into action. Shaking shiny gold pom-poms they shout in rhythm, “Take the ball down the court. Shoot, shoot, shoot, and score!” Co-captain Rebecca Kaplan ’11 keeps a close eye on the action, and when Trinity College grabs a rebound, the cheer turns to “D-E-F-E-N-S-E!”

This early December game was only the third time that Smith’s new cheerleading squad was on the job at a home basketball game and fans and team alike were starting to catch on to the energy that cheerleaders can bring to a game. Big G, little O. Come on, Smith. Let’s GO!

Until last year, when a small group of cheer enthusiasts organized themselves into a squad, Smith athletes had to lead their own cheers from the bench. Now, at home rugby and basketball games, those duties are handled by a highly drilled, ten-woman squad that has achieved recognition as a chartered club sport.

“It’s progressive really, the idea of women cheering for women,” said Garnette Sherry, who was hired by the athletic department last summer to coach the Smith Spirit cheerleaders.

For the last decade or so, cheerleading across the nation has grown into a competitive sport in itself, one that combines precision drills, gymnastic stunts, and elements of dance. But cheerleading still suffers from a lingering reputation of self-absorbed high-school girls. Smith Spirit has had to contend with those old stereotypes, including catcalls from an opposing team and taunts from classmates that cheering isn’t a sport, Sherry said.

“I think those people should just come and see us perform,” said co-captain Miranda (Molly) Noyce ’11.

Sheer hard work does seem to be winning over the fans, the teams, and the critics. For seven hours every week, the team practices its cheer skills under Sherry’s tutelage. She not only teaches cheers and choreographs routines but she also educates the cheerleaders on the nuances of the game. “We simulate games so the cheerleaders know what to do after different plays,” Sherry said. Her presence as a coach was key to taking the squad beyond dance and leading cheers. “For safety reasons, we couldn’t let them do stunting without a coach,” said Assistant Athletic Director Bonnie May, who oversees all club sports.

Now, when a team calls a time-out, the cheerleaders quickly assemble themselves into a multilevel formation for a fast, mid-court cheer, often tossing 5-foot-2 gymnast Nicole Rothenheber ’10 into the air. “It’s such a rush to throw a girl in the air and to hear the crowd go ‘ooooh,’” Noyce said.

Smith Spirit has ambitions of becoming a competitive cheerleading squad, and perhaps one day a varsity sport. For now, though, its goals are to keep the games lively, support the athletes, spark school spirit, and increase attendance at games. “It all adds to an exciting atmosphere,” May said. “The more lively the games are the more likely people will want to come and be a part of it.”

“We want Smith’s athletes to know that there is an entire club sport dedicated to upping their confidence,” said co-captain Kaplan, one of a few experienced cheerleaders on the squad. “Cheerleading at Smith is a prime example of strong women supporting strong women, which, in my opinion, is a lot of what this institution is about.”

Spring ’09 SAQ