Tufts cheerleading team: From bringing school spirit to bringing it at nationals

Tufts Cheerleading performs alongside Youth Squad during a basketball game on Jan. 26, 2019. Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily Archives

The cheerleading team is an integral part of the school spirit at Tufts. At each football and basketball game, you can find it cheering loudly on the sidelines, pumping up the crowd and showing off its stunts in between quarters or at halftime. 

When not standing by the court or the field, the Tufts cheerleading team is preparing to compete at its first ever national competition in Daytona, Fla.

The competition, according to senior and co-captain Hawley Brown, is the same one featured in Netflix’s docuseries “Cheer” (2020)though Tufts’ team will be competing in a different division. To qualify, the team went through an intensive two-day, 12-hour camp, put on by a staff member from the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA). At the end, the team was awarded a bronze bid to nationals and a blue “Most Improved” ribbon. 

“[A bronze bid means] they paid for part of our registration fee, and that we are officially qualified to go to nationals,” sophomore co-captain Donavan Payne said. “ [The staff member from the NCA] was tracking our improvement from the beginning of the weekend to the end, and we improved a lot.” 

The team continues to improve, working on new skills and stunts to perform in its two-and-a-half-minute nationals routine. Payne described the routine as including an opening “crowd cheer” portion that serves to “get the crowd pumped,” a stunt sequence, a jump sequence, dance, tumbling and — to close — a pyramid. 

Senior co-captain Allie Webster described the routine that the team has been preparing for nationals.

“I think a fair bit [of the routine] is new stuff for nationals,” Webster said. “Until this year, we didn’t really do this stunt called a liberty … lib in cheer terms. And that’s a one-legged stunt, it’s the flyer standing only on one leg and the other leg either by their side or pulled up … And all the people holding up that stunt have their arms all the way over their heads.” 

“We do a lot of progressions. I started flying this semester. I’d always been a base, and then the coach put me in as a fly for a few things,” Brown said. “We’re working our way up, because it can be scary.” 

As the team’s repertoire of stunts has increased, so have its member numbers. Tufts’ cheerleading team was revived in 2016 by Webster and Elise Gan (LA’19), and the newborn 2016–17 program saw less than 10 members and no coach. Now, graduated Gan teams up with Josh Hartman to coach the nationals-bound team, which has around 20 members. 

Hartman, who began coaching the team in 2018, has seen the team grow tremendously.

“They have so much determination and passion for cheer and for their team, that they continue to push each other and get better and better every day,” he wrote in an electronic message to the Daily. “Prior to my arrival, the team wasn’t able to stunt at all since teams need a certified coach to oversee safety and progressions, so their stunt progress has been especially impressive … I’ve also seen a shift in team mindset. This current group is hungry for continual improvement, for supporting Tufts spirit and athletics, and for representing our University and community on the national stage!” 

The cheerleading team stresses inclusion, and will welcome with open arms individuals who have no cheerleading or tumbling background.

“Our team tries to be as inclusive as it can possibly be,” Webster said. “If you want to join, and you can commit to coming to practice and trying your best, then you can be on the team.” 

Sophomore Taylor Marchand had no prior cheerleading experience before joining during her first year.

“When I went to the GIM for cheer, I found it to be a very upbeat and welcoming atmosphere,” she wrote in an electronic message to the Daily. “Although I kept messing up the cheers and dance we were learning, the captains and experienced members continued to encourage me and others as we followed along … I was welcomed and accepted just as much as those who were much further experienced. It was the first community I found at Tufts. Now, it is an ever-expanding family.” 

Yet a bigger team means a more expensive national competition; the team is working to raise a total of between $20,000–$25,000 to pay for the flight tickets and hotel rooms of its members and coaches. It is engaging in just about every fundraising tactic it can, from Tufts’ Giving Tuesday to cheerleader clinics to bake sales. Right now, the team is about halfway to its goal. 

“We’re doing a crowdfunding campaign right now. We’re looking for corporate sponsors,” Brown said. “We’ve done several junior cheerleader clinics, where we have kids ages three to 13, and we’ll teach them stunts and cheers at a basketball game and then we’ll do a halftime dance.”

The group has raised money through a variety of fundraising tactics, Webster added.

“We had a big push in the fall, and we raised between $3,000 or $4,000. And that was just through a video. We made a promotional video and we were promoting the Giving Tuesday fundraiser with that through our Facebook page and on our different social media accounts,” Webster said.

The cheerleaders will also have a pre-nationals showcase, which will be held in Cousens Gym on April 4 at 7 p.m. Though the performance is free, voluntary donations will be welcomed.

“We’ll be doing our nationals routine, and I think the basketball and football teams are going to be coming to that because we’ve supported them all year,” Brown said. 

While working hard to prepare for the national competition, the cheerleaders have continued to support the football and basketball teams by bringing an enthusiastic spirit to every game. On the sidelines, they dedicate themselves to fostering high-energy cheers — so high energy that Payne joked about losing his voice after every game. 

“The captains will call a cheer by going through it one time, and then the entire team will join in,” Webster said. “Then, in the words of our coach, we’ll ‘hit the crowd,’ which means we basically just try to yell and pump up the audience a little bit to help get the team going and raise energy for them.” 

“Outside of the formal cheers, we’re yelling, like, ‘c’mon Tufts!’ and all that. We’re pretty much yelling constantly,” Brown added. 

From cultivating school spirit to getting ready for nationals, the three co-captains agree that the Tufts cheerleading team’s inclusive, fun and supportive environment makes it special. This environment is partly what turned Payne from a high school theatre kid into a college cheerleader.

“I did a lot of theatre in high school,” Payne said. “Then I ended up coming to Tufts, and, to be honest, I thought it would be really funny to join [the cheerleading team]. But then I ended up really, really enjoying it and I take it very, very seriously … I ended up joining and finding something that was very athletic and active … Everyone’s very supportive and it’s just a fun group of people.”