Saint Mary's University cheer team boosts profile

Cheerleaders are stepping off the sidelines to compete nationally alongside the school's star dance team


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The SMU cheer team performs during the 2008 Loney Bowl. (Photo: Joe Chrvala)

Saint Mary's University cheerleaders huddle together in the bleachers at the Atlantic University Sport Championship football game on Saturday.

The Loney Bowl fell on a long weekend this year. Students love to go home for the holidays and the cheerleading team is no exception. A few cheerleaders still come to show their support. They are cold and the seats are rock hard but they are smiling and cheering loudly.

Cheerleading, unlike many other sports, has no spares. There is no one waiting around to fill in if someone is sick or late or doesn't feel like showing up.

"Dedication is very important in cheerleading," says cheer team coach Monique Johnson. "We can't compete if someone is missing. In basketball you can just get someone off the bench. But with cheerleading you can't, it's very intense."

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SMU Dance Team performs at Dance Worlds in Florida. (Photo: courtesy of dance team)

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History of SMU cheer team and dance team since the 1970s.

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SMU plays Acadia University in the Atlantic University Sports Championship game, the Loney Bowl, Saturday, Nov. 13.

The cheer team performs on the sidelines for most of the varsity sports including football, volleyball, men and women's basketball and hockey. They tumble through the air, lift each other and stack themselves into pyramids. For hockey they sit in the stands and cheer. "We don't go on the ice," Johnson laughs. "Can you imagine? Ouch!"

Still, some SMU students don't even know that there's a team, says Johnson. "I'm hoping people know we exist. If they don't that's their loss for not knowing, or coming to a sporting event or getting involved in school," she says.

The SMU Dance Team, on the other hand, is better known. Since its start less than 10 years ago, the team has won three national titles and traveled to Dance Worlds in Florida twice. They have a reputation for excellence. Some dancers applied to SMU just to be on the team.

The dance team performs during the half-time show for the men's football and basketball teams. They were missing in action for the Loney Bowl game. Three of the team members were sick, so they couldn't perform.

Cheering and dancing differences

Francis Brake was the only male member on the cheer team in 2008 and then left to become the only male dance team member in 2009. He wasn't satisfied to just cheer from the sidelines. "They cheered on the football players but I kind of wanted to be cheered on myself," he says.

Brake has been dancing since he could walk. He always admired the dance team but when the new team captain asked him to join in 2009 he wasn't convinced.

"A couple years ago they had the crop tops and pompoms. It wasn't really hip hop it was more a Laker girl kind of thing," he says. He asked the captain what they were going to wear. "She said ‘Sweaters' and I said ‘Well okay, that's a little bit different then'."

Current dance team captain Stephanie Gauvin explains the change. "Most of the girls didn't feel comfortable with the other costumes," she says. "They weren't the right message we wanted to put across. We wanted to be more about our dancing rather than showing off any skin."

Brake, who graduated last year, is the only person to cross over between the cheer and dance teams. He says a lot of people get confused when they see the dance team perform at half-time and assume they're cheerleaders.

"We kind of get offended because it's not cheerleading. But then at the same time the cheerleaders feel the same way. Like if they get mistaken for the dance team, they're like ‘No we don't dance, we stunt'."

The future of SMU cheer

Johnson hopes that one day cheerleading will be recognized as a legitimate varsity sport. She points to the similarities between gymnastics and cheer routines. "We throw girls into the air," she says. "I mean golf is a sport. For a while that was debatable. If golf is a sport, cheering is definitely a sport."

The cheer team began competing for the first time last year. They competed in Cheer Expo, a national competition, and placed fourth. They also placed first in the Atlantic competition Maritime Meltdown as division champs, but they were the only cheer team to show up from the HRM. They are now making competitions a priority.

But, travelling to competitions costs money. Members of the cheer team already pay over $400 each for gear and outfits as well as team fees for a choreographer and gym rental. SMU gives their club sports some funding but it doesn't cover everything. They also fundraise and pay out of pocket. Johnson laughs and says, "The bank of Mom and Dad."

The dance team also receives money from the school but has managed to find corporate sponsors in the past and also fundraises.

Johnson hopes the team will place higher this year, but with only 20 team members their low numbers are against them. Johnson shrugs and laughs. "You have to make due with what you have and try and polish them and make them into beautiful talented cheerleaders."




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