The stereotypical image of bubble-headed, blonde cheerleaders bouncing around the basketball court at halftime is a thing of the past for GW basketball fans. Today’s cheerleader isn’t your mom in a poodle skirt.
According to GW’s buff and blue squad members, what they do is rigorous athletics while providing side-show entertainment.
“I understand in some places it’s a joke,” sophomore Laura Goodale said. “But here we practice almost every day and we get injured, too. I mean, I work damn hard.
“I guess some people just don’t understand how cheerleading can evolve into a sport from high school to college,” she added.
Senior co-captain Jill Kiah understands the sport and, perhaps more importantly, the psychology behind it.
“It’s our job to keep morale going and get the fans rowdy and rambunctious. We want to be oriented with the crowd,” Kiah said. “Lately we’ve been focusing on stunts to woo the crowd and evoke a response, rather than doing things like pyramids and such where the fans were like `ho-hum.’ ” Kiah’s voice was hoarse from yelling as she sat on the bus back from the A-10 Championship game against Xavier.
“Temple (GW’s opponent in the A-10 semifinal) was a scary game. It was a hometown crowd but our fans and the band kept the energy going,” Kiah remarked. “We were playing mind games with Temple’s players.”
Kiah said that she picked out Temple’s number 50, and spent the game harassing him.
“I razzed him a lot. When he took his foul shots I wrecked his concentration,” Kiah chuckled. “We actually got a couple of warnings from the refs to chill out.”
Head coach Mike Wiseman said the purpose of cheerleading is to create a liaison between the fans and the team. “We must get the fans to motivate the team,” he said. “That’s our most important role.”
Wiseman added that the program is constantly improving. In 1996 and 1997 GW placed in the top 10 at the College Cheerleading and Dancing Championships in the Division I College Cheer in Orlando, Fla.
The cheerleading season lasts 11 months, beginning with a summer camp in August at Rutgers, leading up to tryouts in early September back on campus. Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break are all but non-existent. Instead, cheerleaders travel with the basketball team to places like Hawaii, Philadelphia and, most recently, Kentucky and Connecticut.
The 24 athletes – including George the Mascot – are divided into varsity and junior varsity teams. The cheerleaders cover all men’s and women’s home games, as well as tournaments. In return, they receive $3,500 scholarships.
Attendance at some games is poor, especially women’s games, and that’s when the cheerleaders and the band work together to make a difference in atmosphere, Wiseman said.
“When the team is winning, everybody shows up and is loud,” he said. “The hard part is getting the crowd to come and be loud when the team isn’t doing well. The women’s team is just as exciting and just as good.”
The team practices Tuesday through Saturday, usually in couples, on partner-stunting and pyramid building. They work out three hours a week. The women spend time on dancing and motions, while the men work on gymnastics.
“They’re a talented group,” Wiseman said. “We’re on the cutting edge and our choreography is innovative.”
The Cupie, the Liberty and the High-Split Pyramid are some of the routines the team performs.
“The hardest routine is the Cupie, where the guy holds both of the girl’s feet in his one hand over his head,” Kiah explained. “A Liberty is where the guy uses both arms to hold the girl’s one foot while her other leg is knee up in a stag position. A Basket Toss is when several guys flip a girl in the air.”
But the crowd favorite, according to Kiah, is the High-Split Pyramid, where two men form a base, holding two women on their shoulders. A third woman is launched into the air and lands in a split on the shoulders of the other two.
“The crowd loves it because it looks painful for the girl,” Kiah noted Much of the excitement, she said, comes from the suspense over whether the girl will be dropped on floor.
“The crowd is wondering, `Is the guy gonna catch her?’ ” Kiah said. “But they always do.”
Actually, the spotters are hurt more often than the women; injuries usually stem from repeated motion and wear and tear on shoulders.
Sophomore Dave Souter said lifting a human being over his head with one hand is done with technique, not strength.
“You put the weight into your legs,” Souter said. Luckily for him, all female cheerleaders are between 5-1 and 5-4, and less than 115 pounds.
“But,” Goodale interjected, “the rumors that we’re all anorexic and bulimic aren’t true. We work out and eat right to stay in shape. The uniforms we wear are very revealing.”
The most important element of cheerleading, according to many of the athletes, is trust.
“I train the kids to trust each other, and to meet fear head on,” Wiseman explained. “It’s unnatural, but it happens quick.”
Souter laughed. “There’s no room for ego when you’re holding someone’s ass in the air.”