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Elon's cheerleading program changes their dynamic

Kelsey Mathews / Reporter

The high level of commitment and lack of tangible rewards for both the co-ed and small co-ed cheerleaders at Elon is causing a decrease in retention rates. Other factors, one being the intensity of Greek Life involvement, also contribute.

Training for cheerleading looks similar to training for other collegiate teams. During basketball season the team participates in practices twice per week, weights twice a week and generally games twice a week. Only one day is left to give their vocal chords a rest.

Despite the time they commit to a sport that is not only physically rigorous but has the potential to be the blood of Elon sporting events, cheer squads are not recognized by the NCAA. The school itself has yet to do much to support them, either. Limited book scholarships are the only available financial reimbursement for the athletes. They do not travel with the teams due to lack of funds.

Coach Sandra Bays can see how this would be a problem for some. She said, "They ask, why am I doing this for nothing?"

Former all-female (currently small co-ed), cheerleader Kristin Smith asked herself that same question last spring. After debating whether to stay on the team, she decided it was too much of a time commitment.

"It was hard, putting that much time into something and not get anything out of it," Smith said.

"I had to come to the conclusion that cheering won't get me any closer to where I want to be in the future."

Smith cheered for two years at Elon before deciding to quit.

She misses the team, but decided the benefits outweigh the negatives. She now gets to actively participate in her sorority.

Seventeen freshmen joined the team this fall. The coach and athletes alike wonder how many freshmen will return next fall, and in the following years. Only time will tell, but with the majority of those athletes being women, Greek life may draw some away. Of 2,627 female undergraduate students, 1,177 are Greek.

This is a trend that the coach has noticed as a large contributor to a low retention rate. In her five years of coaching, she has continually seen this happen.

"Once people pledge and go Greek, they get burnt out," said Bays

As a former Elon cheerleader for four years, as well as a Sigma Sigma Sigma alumna, the coach understands. However, she is confident in the squad she is raising up now.

"We have a great team. They bring a lot of excitement and diversity. This year is a growing year for us," she said.

As a part of mixing up the squads in hopes of higher retention, Bays changed the all-female squad to a small co-ed team in early September.

Small co-ed captain, Erin Follett, said that both the co-ed and small co-ed squads are one team, training together and doing pre-season as a joint unit. She dismisses questions of a varsity/junior varsity differential.

"I realize it may look confusing from the stands, as we have two separate teams with different uniforms and stunting techniques. However, we work equally as hard as the other team (co-ed) and we deserve everything that comes with being called a varsity athlete," Follett said.

The coach hopes this new set-up will encourage retention and says it may potentially build up their recognition on campus as well.

For four-year member Follett, the all-female style cheering and stunting is all she's ever known.

"I liked being different from the co-ed team." Follett said. "Now, I don't know what I would do without them (the guys). They add a new dynamic and make the environment more relaxed and fun."

She also wants this new dynamic to do more than create interest in the program, but keep athletes committed.

Contact Kelsey Mathews at pendulum@elon.edu or 278-7247.

Photo Submitted

Cheerleading demands long hours of practice and weigh lifting.