Editor’s note: This series will allow you to experience “a day in the life” of various individuals throughout the UC Davis community. After spending time with a teaching assistant last time out, we’ll give you a taste of life as a male cheerleader today.
It turns out that being a cheerleader is more than just pom-poms, a skirt, a squeaky voice and a pretty smile.
I attended the UC Davis cheer team tryouts Sunday in Hickey Gym, and writing this today, my back still has an aching kink that won’t budge from neglecting to stretch properly. I also badly bruised several toes. Insurance claims are pending.
The tryouts began shortly after 9 a.m. in the upper gym, where 40 girls were trying out – 35 in person and five more by video.
Even if I weren’t a guy, just by my red shorts alone I would have stood out amid the group of white tank tops, short blue shorts and blue-and-white ribbon bow-tied pony tails.
The tryouts were preceded by four clinics, and because no men had shown up for the clinics – and I was unaware of the protocol for male cheerleading – I opted to take the girls’ route to the best of my ability.
Tryouts were broken into two sections: jumps and cheers first, then tumbling and stunts.
Candidates entered the gym in groups of three to face a squad of judges, two of whom were officially keeping score, while other hopefuls waited outside in the hallway.
“Tryouts are really intense,” said Ashley Black, who will transfer to UC Davis from Sacramento City College next fall. “You’re in there with just three girls, and the judges just stare at you blankly. It’s nerve-wracking, but at the same time, you get an adrenaline rush.”
The most popular jumps were the double toe touch and the hurdler. Following the jumps, candidates performed a cheer, a dance and the fight song as a group.
Vanessa Muro, a first-year biological science major, was in the first group.
“It went really fast, but I think I did pretty well, even though I was really nervous. I forgot to smile, though,” she said.
The girls are expected to smile the entire time, said head coach Obie Gomez.
Black, who has been cheerleading for seven years, valiantly attempted to teach me a dance routine, but I was lost in the indecipherable mess of high V’s and low V’s and leg kicks.
“Just smile a lot, and make the judges want to cheer with you,” advised Evani Gatbonton, a sophomore psychology major.
Because I’m extremely uncoordinated and generally incapable of dancing even under the influence of alcohol, I limited myself to the jumps. I scored six out of 10 on my double toe touch, and a measly four out 10 on the hurdler.
These sub-par scores weighed heavily on my conscience until Greg Ortiz, the spirit coordinator, informed me that one of the most important things coaches look for in tryouts is the potential to improve.
I still had a chance.
Next came the tumbling and stunt section – redemption time. The tumbling consisted of running and standing tumbling, both of which focused on performing back hand springs and backwards somersaults.
“Tumbling is the hardest part,” Muro said. “You have to have natural talent, and even then it’s hard if you haven’t been doing it for a few years.”
All three members of the group attempted tumbling in just two of the twelve groups.
For my part, I scored a total of six out of 12 in both the running and the standing tumbling for my back handsprings. I earned four points for performing without a spot, and two for my technique, which “wasn’t too pretty” according to Maria Zalesky, UC Davis Athletics Special Events coordinator and judge at the tryouts.
The last part of the tryouts was the stunting.
Stunting typically requires four people: a flyer, who is generally petite and gets lifted up in the air, two bases to hold the flyer and a backspot, who is generally taller and steps in in case the flyer loses her balance.
“The stunting is the hardest part,” said Black, a flyer. “[A flyer] has to know how to hold their weight. You have to tighten every muscle in your body and not be afraid.”
Darcy Kuto, a graduating senior wildlife and fish conservation and biology double-major, who has been cheerleading for four years, gave me the opportunity to practice being a base in two-person, partner stunts.
Kuto, an experienced flyer, tried to teach me “the chair.” She explained my job in the following fashion: “hoist me in the air, follow through on the throw, stay underneath, grab my ankle with one hand, and catch my butt with your other hand.”
Though I did hold her up for a few seconds at one point – after dangerously dropping her several times – I decided to abstain from this section of the tryouts.
Three graduating seniors were present to aid in the tryouts.
“I loved every second of it,” said Courtney Sinclair, an exercise biology major, about the conclusion of her three years of cheering at UC Davis. “It’s been a great experience. Starting out on a team with no facilities – but every year things are getting better and better. The coaching, the girls … there’s been a lot of evolution in the program.”
Approximately 16 of the candidates were part of the team last year.
“This is a fantastic squad. We’re really excited about next year,” Ortiz said. “The camaraderie really stands out even though some of these girls just met each other in the clinics. You can tell they have a lot of spirit just by the way they interact with each other.”
The girls universally expressed anxiety over having to wait until Tuesday for the results. A minimum of 24 will be accepted.
Personally, I’ve had trouble sleeping the past few nights.
CHARLES HINRIKSSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.XXX