A different kind of training camp: Cheer team prepares for season

Every week, Chapman’s cheerleading team choreographs a new routine to perform at the halftime of football games, while also planning out “band dances” on the sidelines. Photo courtesy of Chloe Pace

During orientation week, student leaders use every ounce of their energy to try and get freshmen excited about Chapman. The same week, another group on campus prepares to keep that momentum going in a different way – one that requires four to five-hour practices daily.

Cheerleading can be rigorous, said Reagan Poltrock, a member of the Chapman cheer team. The junior communication studies major said that immense energy goes into their training that orientation week, as that’s when they learn most of their material. Coined “cheer week,” many members of the team are involved in creating exercise routines and even rehearsing cheers – outside of their 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. practices – with videos to follow.

“We pretty much crank everything out,” Poltrock said. “We’re really hardworking and that shows how much devotion we have.”

The work doesn’t stop when the semester starts. The team continues to hold two-hour-long practices on Monday nights and Wednesday mornings in the Harold Hutton Sports Center. When there’s a home game, the team practices on Wilson Field. Depending on the time of the game, that practice can be held as early as 6 a.m.

“Immediately once we’re there, we go to work. That’s the time all of us are together and the only time we will be until we have to perform, so we’re pretty much go-go-go,” Poltrock said.

The cheerleaders perform short dances on the field sidelines during breaks in action in football games. But while the choreography for these “band dances” remains the same and is passed down year-to-year, the halftime show is brand-new every week. The two captains, Chloe Pace and Skylar Brock, choreograph routines to a mix of modern and throwback high-energy songs and teach them to the rest of the cheer squad.

“We watch them do it, then we go over counts and make sure everybody’s on board, going really slowly and then doing it with music,” Poltrock said.

Cheerleading recently became a club sport in 2017. With the new designation, the team’s coach Emily Hepp assists and supervises the team, helping alleviate the pressure on the co-captains. However, Pace said that it hasn’t diminished the amount of work that goes into her role.

“Even though we have a coach, who is awesome and helpful with coordinating, it is still a strongly student-run organization,” said the senior communication studies major.

Despite how much effort the captains and the team put into preparing for games, some students haven’t seen the team of 20 perform.

“I didn’t know we had a cheerleading team,” Avery Girion, a junior television writing and production major, said.

Pace thinks the low awareness about the club may have something to do with Chapman’s status as a Division III school and the low attendance at football games.

“Not that it’s bad turnout, but in comparison to bigger schools it’s obviously less,” Pace said.

The team is working on ways to increase their presence on campus. At the beginning of the school year, they discussed how they can raise awareness, and they currently plan to table in the Attallah Piazza before football games.

“We do a lot of things outside of Chapman within the community, whether that be volunteering or philanthropic things,” Poltrock said. “It’s important to get our name out, not only at Chapman but on a community level as well.”

Stereotypes surrounding cheerleaders can undermine the dedication the cheer squad has to their sport, Poltrock said.

“Some people would think we’re ditzy and a lot of movies portray us that way, but from every team I’ve ever been on, every girl I’ve met is down-to-earth and puts so much into what they do,” Poltrock said. “Whether it be exercises or the dances — it’s a lot harder than people think.”

Pace said it doesn’t bother her when people say cheerleading isn’t a sport, just a hobby.

“Just because you’re calling it a hobby, doesn’t mean that you’re putting any less time or effort into it,” she said.

Both Pace and Poltrock are passionate about their sport and what it can offer the community.

“It’s not just about cheering at games,” Poltrock said. “It’s about embodying everybody and the spirit of Chapman and what we do.”