Spirit squad rallies Augustana

The Augustana University Spirit Squad, comprised of the cheer and dance teams, works hard throughout the year to perfect its skills and rally crowds at football and basketball games. Each week, the teams gather for practices and team workouts, delivering half-time and sideline performances for Viking fans on the weekends.

On Mondays and Wednesdays for two to two-and-a-half hours, the spirit squad practices in the Elmen gym, according to coach Jenna Thu. Although the cheer and dance teams meet in the same space, they practice separately. 

The cheer team, under the direction of assistant coach Betzi Plucker, typically spends its practices going through the team’s highs and lows of the week, working on stunts and coming up with new ideas to showcase at game day, according to junior cheerleader Camryn Huber.

Dance team practices consist of warming up and learning new dances for the upcoming football games. The team performs one to two new routines for either pregame or halftime performances, senior dancer Alexis Johnson said. 

At games, the cheer and dance teams perform separately but support each other as one squad. The dance team showcases its pom, hip hop and jazz routines while the cheer team performs their stunts and leads the crowd in game day cheers.

“The cheer and dance teams work together to make game day great,” Thu said. “We have camp together, practice at the same time and do most games together. Each team has its own focus, but also things we do the same.”

Besides performing at football and basketball games, the spirit squad helps the athletics department by assisting the media team with promotions and volunteering to run activities at other games, like face painting for volleyball.

Once basketball season is over, the spirit squad takes a break from their regular practice schedule. Both the cheer and dance teams still meet for team workouts and open gyms to keep themselves ready for tryouts, according to Thu.

Spirit squad tryouts are held in April. Those who are interested come in for a one-day intensive to learn routines and cheers. At the end of the day, the cheerleaders and dancers showcase their skills for a panel of judges. 

Tryouts are open to anyone who is interested, regardless of their level of experience. 

“It’s not a scary thing,” Huber said. “When I first did my tryouts, everyone was so inclusive and welcoming.”

This year, the cheer team is made up of 20 members, mostly freshmen and sophomores. The 15 members of the dance team have a more even balance of under and upperclassmen. Thu said she has great veterans and leaders who look out for the new members. 

“Both teams have made me proud with all they have accomplished in the first two months of our season,” Thu said.

The spirit squad starts its season with a three-day camp in August. The cheer and dance teams stay in the dorms and have practices at the Elmen. Professional choreographers and coaches from other collegiate dance teams come to Augie to help the teams work on skills and teach routines. 

The camp also allows the teams to get to know each other before the year starts. 

“We spend every single second together,” Huber said. “I think that’s such a good way to make those initial relationships. Ever since camp, all of us have molded together into one big friend group.”

Every Friday before a game, the teams have a bonding night to continue strengthening their relationships off the field. The captains put together an activity for the teams, like pumpkin carving, apple picking or scavenger hunts.

“It’s a way to get ready for game day, answer game day questions and be together as a team,” Huber said.

Though some may believe that cheer and dance aren’t sports, the members of the spirit squad don’t see it that way. 

“It seems kind of like easy stuff on the sidelines and doing halftime performances,” Johnson said. “But there’s a lot of work that goes into it. There’s a lot of technique and form.”

The teams work hard throughout their season to prove their athletic ability. 

“We are a performance-based team so we don’t compete, but I can tell you all 35 of our team members are athletes,” Thu said. “Just because they make what they do look effortless doesn’t mean it didn’t take a ton of time, practice and strength to master.”

Despite the misconceptions, the Augustana Athletics Department does a great job of supporting the spirit squad; every team member receives a scholarship, Thu said. The department also includes the spirit squad at events and other athletic opportunities, according to Johnson. 

“The football coach, Coach O, does a great job,” Johnson said. “He comes up to us before every football game and thanks us for everything we do.”

As their season continues, the spirit squad looks forward to cheering on Augustana and growing as a team. 

“We absolutely love cheering on the Vikings at all events on and off the field,” Thu said.


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