It’s time to add one to the list of Williams’ myriad sports teams: cheerleading.
For the past few weeks, approximately 14 students – both male and female – have been practicing their flips, jumps and cheers at Towne Field House for two hours each day. They plan to cheer at football and basketball games and are considering adding other sporting events to that list. The cheerleading squad plans to make its debut Saturday when varsity football takes on Middlebury.
The team’s coach, Shane Pederzini, has over ten years of cheerleading experience and drives in from North Adams to teach the execution of various acrobatic maneuvers. The group also gets help from members of the dance department in learning choreographed routines. They aim to increase their endurance, strength and flexibility, but admit that the real purpose of their work is to increase school spirit at sporting events.
“As of now, we are just interested in supporting the teams on campus, and to show our support,” said Kisha Watts ’02, squad coordinator. “Ultimately, we are interested in entering competitions. As far as making the organization better, we do have some concerns about recruitment because we have people who play different sports on our squad, so it is likely that we will have to hold additional tryouts for the spring. We are currently working on getting outside sponsors, but we are still in the early stages, so I am sure that this will be an exciting road.”
At present, the group is supporting itself through fundraising. The group has advertised around campus for an auction this Thursday where the team will auction off dates with team members and football players as an initial fundraiser. However, the cheerleading team plans on seeking College Council (CC) recognition soon, according to Watts.
“As far as funding goes, the athletic department has not been able to fund us as of yet, so we are basically raising our own money,” Watts said. “But, if CC was willing to support us, as far as funding goes, we would gladly accept.”
Despite the lack of funding, the new cheerleaders insist that they will look professional on the field. Both men and women will be decked out in a display of purple and W’s. According to team member Laurel Hensley ’03, “The bloomers for the girls will be super-cute because we’re getting purple cows stitched on them.”
However, not everyone shares the squad’s enthusiasm. Reaction to the cheerleading squad’s appearance on campus has been mixed: some students said the team would help sponsor school spirit, while others criticized cheerleading as anachronistic.
“I think it’s awesome we have a cheerleading team now,” said one sophomore. “It increases school spirit. I was rather surprised when I came here and we didn’t have cheerleaders. It’s not like we’re trying to assimilate to what other schools are like. I just don’t see the problem with it.”
“If it ends up working out and promoting school spirit, then that’s great,” said a junior. “But if it’s not taken seriously, it will be a negative reflection on the school and the community.”
Team members say their biggest problem with the present situation is not their lack of funding or the scarcity of male cheerleaders, but the reactions of other students.
Many report being laughed at when discussing their newest extracurricular activity. There have also been more serious objections and open criticism. “Even people who aren’t protesting the squad aren’t taking us seriously,” said cheerleader Susannah Mitchell ’04.
One serious complaint against cheerleading at Williams echoes the concerns voiced by Samantha Grant ’01 in her letter to the editor from the Oct. 3 edition of the Record: that cheerleading is disrespectful to women.
Decades ago â€“ when women were not allowed to participate in competitive sports at Williams â€“ their only athletic option was to become cheerleaders and celebrate the successes of others. Now that women have every opportunity to participate in sports here at the College, many do not see the point in having cheerleaders. “Williams College went co-ed in 1970,” Grant wrote. “I believe we have managed to not disparage women in this fashion for 30 years now. Let’s not regress.”
“I didn’t have any problem with it until the idea of selling themselves to the highest bidder came along,” said Bill Sacks ’03, in reference to the advertised auction fundraiser.
“I was trying to justify to myself that it wasn’t just an objectification of women that they were going after,” he said. “But after seeing that, I realized that what’s they’re doing, and I feel that that’s a disgrace to Williams students.”
Another complaint is that if the cheerleaders are interested in athletic competition and dance routines, there are already options available to them.
“I think if they want to do dance routines and be athletic, I think they should put their efforts into the dance department,” one sophomore said. “And if they want to be involved in athletic competitions, there are a zillion sports teams for them. I just don’t see the point.”
The new squad seems to believe that there is a dearth of spirit amongst Williams students. Their job is to change that. However, many students doubt that a few splits and kicks are going to increase the cheering level at games by much. One student said, “I think we’re as excited as we’re going to get at games, and cheerleaders would just be distracting.”