College Dance Team Central

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Officials Say Cheer's Merge a Result Of Safety Concerns

by Allison Denny
Photo by Jeffrey Lowman / THE STATE PRESS
ASU Web Devil

Amid athletic cuts, members of ASU's former 15-member, co-ed cheer squad blame its merge with the school's dance team on money, not safety concerns cited by ASU officials.

The merge follows a nationwide trend in high schools, colleges and universities to eliminate stunting and tumbling because of safety concerns said Mark Brand, associate athletic director for communications.

"We've had cheerleaders, and we've seen cheerleaders — male and female — around the country get hurt recently, and we can't take that chance," Brand said.

According to the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Advisors, 64 cheerleaders at the high school or college level sustained fatal, catastrophic or serious injury between 1982 and 2005. In the same time period, 698 high school and college football players sustained the same kind of injuries.

Under the new arrangement, the cheer team has been merged with the dance team, creating the new Sun Devil Spirit Squad.

The squad will fall under the control of Director of Athletic Bands Jim Hudson, instead of the athletic department like cheer did, Brand said. Formerly Hudson only controlled the marching band and dance team.

Hudson was brought over from Iowa State two years ago to lead the marching band, Brand said, and it became clear that moving band, dance and cheer under his jurisdiction would best serve the school.

"It just made sense for all of the cheer atmosphere, all of the spirit atmosphere … to be under one person so you could collaborate and make the fan experience the best we can make it," Brand said.

Secondary education senior and former cheer captain Brianna Barcelo said many schools are following in the footsteps of the USC, whose Song Leaders dance instead of cheer, eliminating potentially dangerous stunt and tumble moves.

"All over the nation, they're putting stops on cheer at all different levels," Barcelo said. "It is more risky, but it's also changed a lot."

Coaches and cheerleaders are highly trained, though, and accidents aren't commonplace, Barcelo said.

"Our coach is amazing. She would definitely not let us do anything we weren't able to do," she said. "We know all the precautions we have to do to make it safe for us."

Last year stunting was cut but the cheerleaders slowly fought against the athletic department to bring it back, Barcelo said.

"I guess in a way it's almost an every year battle," she said. "I worked my butt off to be able to be on cheer. Now it just kind of sucks.

"It's my senior year and I won't be able to do it again."

Barcelo said it was clear that the merge had to do with money when ASU announced just weeks later that wrestling, men's swimming and men's tennis would be cut.

Wrestling has since been reinstated after the team came up with an $8 million endowment.

Right around the time the merge was announced, a picture of former and current ASU cheerleaders in their bras and underwear was posted to TheDirty.com, a gossip Web site that reports on 40 cities and 24 universities around the country, according to its Web site.

Barcelo said the pictures on The Dirty had nothing to do with the merge.

"The news finds anything to focus it on and blame," Barcelo said. "It was the media that made [those rumors] up, pretty much."

Brand said ASU officials told the cheer team about the merge on a Tuesday night and didn't know about the pictures until the next day.

Because the pictures came out around the same time as the announcement, Brand said people assumed one caused the other, but the move was in the panning stages for a long time and the two incidents are unrelated.

"There was nothing that led to a snap decision," Brand said. "It had nothing to do with money. It had nothing to do with Internet pictures. That was a total coincidence."

Elementary education senior Katelyn Jones was on the cheer team for three years and said ASU's safety concerns over stunting and tumbling are a cover-up.

"It was all just about money," she said.

The team learned about the merge just 10 days before tryouts, Jones said, and the cheerleaders were never asked their opinion or given any advance notice that the merge might happen.

"It's just very upsetting and very discouraging that they came and took it away from us with no warning and no notice," Jones said.

Still, all the cheerleaders were encouraged to try out for the new squad, she said.

"We were all upset and angry but took their word and took a shot," she said. "Marketing had implied that [we] would make it."

Of the 15 cheerleaders — most of whom tried out for the new squad — only three made it, Jones said.

Brand said no such promises were made, though.

"The cheerleaders, male or female, had to try out year after year," he said. "No one was told that they were going to make it."

Jones said she came to ASU for cheerleading.

"For it to be gone is really upsetting," she said. "That's all I know. It's my passion. It was a challenge for me. It meant everything to me."

Jones said she tried out for the new squad but didn't make it.

"It'll be a different experience sitting in the student section," she said.