Cheerleaders keep spirit alive

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Article published in the Oct. 18, 2013, issue of The Daily Eastern News.

They’re at every home football and men’s and women’s basketball game, on the sidelines with their crisp blue uniforms and shiny pom-poms. They’re even branching out and cheering for other teams, like soccer and cross country, as per the requests of those teams.

They don’t get scholarships. They don’t get much funding. They do it for the love of the sport.

Eastern’s cheerleaders on the EIU Cheer Team were even willing to pay their own way to go to the football games at Southern Illinois-Carbondale and Northern Illinois this season. But the athletic department told them they couldn’t go, coach Brian Allen said.

He said he gets an operating budget each year, most of which usually goes toward travel for post-season tournament games. This year, he used it to buy the team new uniforms. Next year, he said he wants to buy new mats. The current ones are 18 years old.

Outside of the operating budget, the cheerleaders have to buy their own gear: practice clothes, warm-up outfits, shoes.

They also have fundraisers like cheer clinics to teach elementary, junior high and high school students to cheer.

Those fundraisers will come in handy for Allen’s big goal this year: the National Cheerleaders Association competition in Daytona Beach, Fla., in April.

The team’s last competition was almost 10 years ago and it took eighth out of 16 teams in the nation. Allen wants to go back.

“If you want the quality cheerleaders to represent your school, then you have to compete,” Allen said. “You have to. That’s the way cheerleading is moving now.”

Chaney Ruffin, a freshman, and the lone man on the team, said he is confident the team could compete and be just as well known as the football team: as a champion team.

“There’s a lot of raw talent and if we harvest it, this team could be amazing,” Ruffin said. “I believe this team could go to any small co-ed competition and take first.”

Competing isn’t all that matters for this team, though.

“For me, it’s always been a part of who I am,” said senior captain Allie Moran.

She’s cheered since she was in fifth grade and said she plans on staying in the cheerleading world, hoping to coach high school in the future.

Having been a captain since her sophomore year, a leadership role like that would come naturally to her.

Her captain duties vary from leading routines at practice, to calling cheers at games, to being the line of communication between the athletic department and the team.

She’s not the only one who calls cheers at games, though; everyone on the team knows when a cheer is needed to pep up the crowd. If they don’t, she urges her teammates to learn the game.

“If you don’t know, get with your brother, dad, whoever it is, and learn the basics of the sport so you know when to call an offensive cheer, a defensive cheer, or when the best times to get the crowd pumped up are,” Moran said.

Most of the current cheers are traditional Eastern cheers that have been around for years. In fact, one of them — “We are (clap, clap) EIU (clap, clap)” — had disappeared somewhere along the line and came back into existence during Moran’s sophomore year.

At Homecoming that year, about 40 cheerleading alumni came back and cheered with the team at the football game, sharing old cheers, and that was one of them. After that, the cheer was resurrected.

The story behind it makes that one of the team’s favorites.

Moran said at games, she usually focuses more on chants than cheers, which allow for more crowd involvement.

“You want the crowd yelling with you and cheering for the team, instead of just watching,” Moran said.

That’s when Ruffin’s main duty comes into play: keeping tempo. At practices, he stands in the back and claps loud enough that the women in the front can’t hear the person counting right in front of them.

At games, he’s the one in charge of the white megaphone. He doesn’t dance or cheer with the rest of the team, which he said is the main difference from his high school cheering days.

Being the only man on the team isn’t anything new for Ruffin. He was the only male on his high school team, so it doesn’t bother him, he said.

“The stigma of male cheerleading is really stupid,” he said. “I want to show that male cheerleading is not something that’s gay or girly. I want to try to beat the stigma at this school and get as many guys on the team.”

Open tryouts for the team are coming up, from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in McAffee Gym.

“We do it because we love it,” Moran said. “That’s why we’re out there. All of us have cheered for numerous years. All of us do it because we love the sport.”

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