When UCSC cheer team captain Sasha Belinsky wears her uniform on game days, she typically gets asked two questions: “We have a cheer team?” and “What sports do you cheer for?”
While the answer to the first questions may be obvious based on her attire, the answer to the latter is more uncommon for a collegiate cheerleader. The UCSC cheer team performs at games including men’s and women’s basketball, lacrosse, rugby, baseball and men’s volleyball.
“We cheer at pretty much any sport — if they ask us to and we can fit it into our schedule then we’re there,” Belinsky said. “We get invited to perform at both school events and Santa Cruz events such as the Pride Parade downtown, Warriors games and Santa Cruz Derby Girls bouts.”
Belinsky has been on the team since fall 2011 and has seen vast improvement over the years, both in stunt difficulty and in the increasing number of events they are invited to cheer for. Founded in 1996, the team continued to grow in members and popularity since its origination.
But a lack of awareness isn’t the only hurdle the team is trying to jump. Like any club team on campus, the cheer team faces financial challenges as a Tier II team under the standards of the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS). While Tier I teams get upward of $1,000 each season, Tier II teams are given half that. Danny Williams, a member of the cheer team, said team members buy their own uniforms and the limited funding requires them to constantly fundraise for travel costs and competition fees.
Lauren Kordonsky, who has been on the team since last spring, said team camaraderie and support is key for the squad to perform well at community and sporting events.
“Cheer is one of the few sports that can only be practiced in an organized team because it is necessary to work on the ‘tricks’ we do with people who have been properly taught,” Kordonsky said.
The cheer team attracted strong talent from their OPERS booth and exposure at games and events. All 16 current members have cheer experience from high school, but don’t discourage people who may not have experience from trying out.
Both the cheer team and the basketball players benefited from the recent contract between UCSC and Kaiser Permanente Arena. Moving from the cramped West Gym, both athletic teams now get more space and exposure, along with a larger crowd to perform for.
“It has been a blast performing at Kaiser,” Kordonsky said. “Everyone there has been very helpful and supportive. Our basketball players have been very kind and gracious. We have also really enjoyed having our dance team and band there.”
Belinsky added that the instant replays of their routines make the team feel more professional. Performing at Kaiser could be a drawing point for students thinking about joining or trying out for the team.
“It feels like we are playing in an NBA arena with the support of the cheer team, dance team and additional fans,” said basketball player Marshal Arnwine Jr. “It means a lot to have student groups support us. Having a good sense of community is imperative to a lot of sport teams’ success. Any positive support is always greatly appreciated.”
Danny Williams, a member of the cheer team, added that the team’s exposure isn’t exclusive to sporting events. The team also performed at alumni weekend to increase their audience and team awareness.
“People seeing us perform at outside events could encourage students to see us perform at sports games,” Williams said. “We perform at a lot of outside activities that don’t have to do with sports.”
The team also aims to annually perform at national cheer tournaments in the spring, where they placed second last year. In the competition, the team performed an advanced 2 minute and 30 second routine filled with impressive stunts, dances and gymnastics. They were one point away from beating first place winner Menlo College.
But this year, as it had in the past, the competition lands on finals week and prevents the team from participating.
Despite financial setbacks and a lack of student awareness, the cheer team is a club sport that works like any other for notoriety and championships. As the team grows and improves, Belinsky hopes one day no one will ask the question “We have a cheer team?”
Tryouts are hosted in fall and spring. Check out the UCSC cheer team Facebook page for information on upcoming tryouts.