College Dance Team Central

Sunday, April 05, 2009

UALR Changing Spirit Program, May Cancel Cheer Squad

By Bill Lawson
Lonoke News

Last year UALR’s cheerleading squad placed sixth in the nation and next year they may not even exist. Eric Bensing of Maumelle is one of those cheerleaders and he is upset — so upset he said he will probably transfer to UCA.

Nine-year UALR cheer coach Stan Tabor said he was told last week that tryouts scheduled for this spring would not be held and the cheerleaders would be replaced with a dance team similar to the 1980s Trojans in Motion, who were known for their spandex outfits more so than their dance moves.

Contrary to what Tabor says, UALR assistant athletic director Gary Hogan says no decision has been made.

Calls to athletic director Chris Peterson were not answered by press time.

Terri Hatcher, 41, of Cabot, said she is a typical UALR student who is a little older than other students. She said she thought the change was more about getting skinnier cheerleaders. Hatcher said she is in excellent physical condition and works out regularly in order to be able to do some of the athletic moves she does. But, as a mother and a woman whose metabolism is more like a 40-year-old than a teenager, she said she carries a few extra pounds.

“A lot of my teammates are transferring to UCA to cheer, but I will not be doing this,” Pennington said. “I do still plan on going to school at UALR and majoring in broadcast communication in hopes of becoming a sports reporter/broadcaster. Even though the news is horrible and hard to take in, my main focus is school and graduating.”

This was Pennington’s second year to cheer at UALR.

“I have cheered at UALR for two years. Last year we went to NCA Nationals and placed 6th in the nation,” she said. “Even though we didn’t win we competed against big schools like Louisville, OSU and SMU, these teams have been going to NCA College Nationals for years, no one even heard of UALR and we placed so high. We were all so proud when we made it into the Top 10 at prelims then at finals when we got sixth we knew we made our school proud.”

Bensing, senior public relations and speech communications major, was very outspoken in his remarks about the situation.

“I came to UALR only because I wanted to cheer there. I feel that the Athletic Dept. is heading in the wrong direction because without cheerleaders, the crowd can be lost at games. Every time the Athletic Dept. needed someone at a pep rally or an alumni event they called on the cheerleaders because we represent the school well. The AD just wants skinny cute girls to dance trashy and make all the older men that give them money happy,” Bensing said.

Tabor said his cheerleaders specialize in technical skills and that’s why they were chosen one of the top teams in the country competing against powerhouses like USC, OU, OSU, Texas. His team leads cheers, does tumbling, stunts and jumps. The 18-member squad includes three males and 15 females. Some of the females have to be athletic enough to lift others, help with tumbles and strong enough to be on the bottom of a pyramid. Thinner, smaller cheerleaders cannot do that, Tabor said, and that’s the direction he sees UALR going.

He compared UALR with other schools nearby. He said ASU has two cheerleader squads and one dance team and so does UCA. UA in Fayetteville has two cheerleading squads and two dance teams. Arkansas Tech has one of each, as does UAPB and UA Fort Smith, Tabor said.

There’s very little expense to the school for the team, Tabor said. He said the cheerleaders held fundraisers to generate enough money to pay for their uniforms and travel. He said there were many options UALR could consider short of abandoning the cheerleaders in favor of a dance team. Some schools have large co-ed squads with ten males and ten females. With that many males to catch and assist the women, the women tend to be smaller to function on top of the formation, Tabor said.

“The girls are smaller because they’ll end up in the air,” Tabor said.

Unfortunately, many of his serious cheerleaders will transfer, he said.

Hatcher, the mother of three — a 21-year-old college boy, a 17-year-old senior at Cabot High School and a 13-year-old girl at Cabot Junior High — said she wanted to be a cheerleader so she took private lessons and eventually made the squad. She has a part-time job at Little Rock Air Force Base coordinating the biennial air shows, which are huge productions with hundreds of thousands of attendees.

“I think I look athletic,” Hatcher said. “But I could afford to lose ten pounds.”

She also said having just cute little cheerleaders to entertain and going backward with the Trojans in Motion wasn’t the right move. She said she was in school at UALR in 1989 and tried out for the dance team, complete with the full spandex body suit, and didn’t make the team.

Tabor said his discussions with the athletic department have centered around body mass index, an accepted form of determining how fat someone is. “But an athletic person who can do all the acrobatic moves we require may test higher than normal — the same way a weight lifter will register a higher body mass than someone in less physical shape.”

At the national competitions, the UALR squad has been the most athletic there, Tabor said.

He said the school didn’t give them an option, just telling them the tryouts this year would be canceled and that next year’s squad would be more of a dance team.

He said he felt sorry for his team who has worked so hard to meet the demanding conditioning and strict rules he placed on them.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the squad, especially with the decision looming. Remember — most are just 18 to 19-year-old kids.

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