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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

’Deis Cheer: Putting their lives in each other’s hands

Published: December 3, 2010
Section: Features

Every Monday and Wednesday, a group of girls gathers in Gosman. They are tour guides, belly dancers, Student Union senators, lab assistants and members of Waltham Group. They all share one special bond—they are members of the Brandeis cheerleading squad, a little-known campus group.

When Reina Guerrero ’11 joined the cheerleading squad, she had one year of middle school cheerleading under her belt. Two years ago, she decided to get more actively engaged in clubs on campus. After getting lost on the way to her first practice, she eventually became extremely involved.

Guerrero is now a team co-captain with Deborah Chamama ’12. Chamama had even less experience: like half of the team, she had never cheered before.

Their main goal as captains is to bring more spirit to athletes, fans and the student body as a whole. The biggest obstacle in their way is lack of student awareness that the squad even exists. In order to attract attention between games and at the beginning of the year, the squad puts up flyers, goes to the Activities Fair and gets their name out through word of mouth. They also sold “superfan” shirts to students to fundraise and get publicity.

According to the captains, Brandeis cheerleaders are nothing like the stereotypical cheerleaders of movies and television. “We’re very accepting and loving and nice,” Chamama said, adding that although the squad is not their main social circle, the girls do bond with each other. Guerrero said that the squad does team-building activities, and described them as more than just friends who do an activity together.

The twice-a-week practices are to prepare the squad for cheering at most men’s and women’s home basketball games. They have also traveled when the teams have made it to the playoffs.

In the spring, practices will get more intense to prepare for a competition, Chamama said. Each year, the team votes if they will compete, and this year they will. “Being at a competition is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before,” Guerrero said excitedly. Although she has never competed, she has attended a cheer competition, and described it as an “extreme version of a dance recital.”

“Hopefully we’ll bring home a trophy,” Guerrero said. It wouldn’t be a stretch—the team placed second at competition only a few years ago.

According to Lynne Dempsey ’93, cheerleading has been a part of Brandeis since the university’s inception and a squad has existed whenever the level of interest has permitted. Dempsey, the Associate Director of Athletics at Brandeis, said that cheerleading was a varsity club (rather than a varsity sport) until 2007, when the Club Sports program was created.

As a club sport, club officers oversee cheerleading with guidance from Club Sports Coordinator Ben White. Unlike varsity sports, which must follow NCAA rules, cheerleading and other club sports rarely have mandatory practices. Cheerleaders also don’t need to have any prior cheering experience.

Cheerleading coach Mary Casey explained that these two factors complicate the squad’s improvement. “We start where everyone’s comfortable and go from there,” she said, explaining that as a coach, she always puts the squad’s safety first.

For example, Casey is not required to be at all of the games at which the squad cheers, but she must be there if they are stunting. Stunting is one of the most dangerous things cheerleaders can do, but the squad hasn’t yet reached a point this semester when they’ve been able to stunt.

“Cheerleading can be a dangerous sport. When you’re stunting, you’re literally trusting your teammates with your life sometimes. You hold each other up—literally and figuratively. When one of you falls, the whole team falls,” Casey said.

Casey works in Conference and Events Services and took the part-time coaching job to become more involved in the Brandeis community. She had a strong cheerleading background, including coaching middle school cheerleading, but had never been involved at the college level. The girls had goals and were looking for someone who could get them there and she felt that she could teach them the skills they needed.

“The team, as it exists today, is really incredible. Even though there aren’t many of them, they really work hard. It’s been a really challenging semester, but I think each of the girls on the team has learned some great lessons this semester—about perseverance, about working hard, and about what it means to be on a team,” Casey said.