Cheer Squad Struggles After Unexpected School Cuts
In the midst of finals during the 2017 spring semester, administrators at Birmingham-Southern met with the cheer squad to inform members that the team would no longer receive school funding.
The squad was told that they would be considered a club instead of a team, would have two advisors instead of a full-time coach and would be organized under Student Development instead of the Athletic Department. The administrators said that they did not see this change as problematic as the team originally functioned under Student Development. These decisions came without warning; they left the women confused and concerned about the future of their cheer squad.
One of the greatest uncertainties from this meeting involved the position of the head coach, Kelly Christian. Christian cheered in her college days at UAB; she was not only qualified to coach the team, but the girls felt that she did a superb job.
When the school demoted the squad, Christian received no information about the decision. According to Kendall Harris, a junior and the squad’s captain, Christian found out about the squad’s demotion from the members after the meeting—a meeting that Christian was not invited to attend.
In place of a head coach, the school appointed two advisors, and they decided to let Christian go. The shift from coach to advisors created problems because the difference between the roles lacked clear definition. The advisors attended practices, but because both had full-time jobs, these practices were difficult to coordinate. Consequently, the advisors contributed little to the program, so Harris became the team’s leader and ultimately functioned as the head coach.
“We basically saw our captain [Harris] have to put cheer over school,” says Jheryl Porter, a freshman on the squad.
The greatest problem that the squad faced was the lack of funding. The squad asked if the school could postpone its changes for one year so that they could prepare for the compensated expenses, but the school denied this request.
Cheerleading requires funding for uniforms, alterations, pompoms, shoes and safety equipment. This year, because the squad operated under advisors instead of a well-trained head coach, the team also paid for gym training with experienced coaches. The $1,000 from the fundraiser in the spring did not cover these expenses, and, as a result, each woman paid $250 out of pocket to cover the necessities of cheering.
Harris appealed to the Student Government Association for funding after she was informed that they have an athletic budget; the budget is small, and it was mostly drained by the time of Harris’ inquiry. As a result, the SGA granted the team $3,000, but this one-time fix would not cover the next year’s expenses.
Additionally, the squad’s demotion from team to club severed the members’ access to the athletic trainers. This loss became dangerous for the squad when several girls received concussions throughout the season. Instead of going to the free athletic trainers provided to athletes by the school, the women were forced to go to the hospital. According to Porter, treatments cost around $300—again out of their own pockets.
“Basically, we are the only ones out there on Saturdays that have to pay for our own stuff,” Harris says. “How is that fair? It really discouraged us.”
The decision to designate the squad as a “club” frustrated and upset many of the women. Because they receive no form of scholarship for competing on the squad, as does the football team, dance line and band, many of the girls feel underappreciated by BSC. Several claim that there is not great communication between the college and the teams that administration deems “extra” or “unnecessary.”
“We did well with what we were given,” says Porter, “but there was a lot of frustration with lack of leadership, organization and preparation. Our expectations were not enforced. It made things very chaotic.”
According to Harris, there is still uncertainty about funding in the future. Despite hearing rumors that the school is working on a solution to restore the squad’s funding, no communication has transpired between administration and the advisors/captains about what next year will hold. Harris hopes that the team’s advertisement as a “non-athletic” program will not discourage people from trying out for the 2018-2019 squad. Tryouts are being held April 14-15 in Bill Battle Coliseum; for more information, check out the BSC Cheerleading website here.
Feature photo courtesy of Birmingham-Southern College Cheerleading.