On a typical Thursday or Saturday in the winter, Cheer Club gets ready to support the men’s and women’s basketball teams at the University of Portland. The team arrives at the Chiles Center an hour before game-time and claims their seats in the bleachers. Everyone gets in formation and waits for the tip-off.
Natalie Warren, club president and founder, usually sends out a game-day morning message to other members. They respond with emojis and an eagerness that carries into the basketball game.
When Warren first got to campus, she searched for a club where she could learn cheer. But she found that among the hundreds of clubs offered by Student Activities, cheer was not one of them. But with the conclusion of the basketball season, Cheer Club has another season under their belt and continues to grow.
“I always wanted to be a cheerleader when I was in high school, and I never did it because I have nerve damage,” Warren explained. “It's a very slight disability in the arm, but it hindered my self-confidence where I didn't try out because I felt like I wouldn't get accepted to the team.”
She began the process of starting a club that would foster a non-toxic, all-inclusive environment for cheerleading. The team would not hold tryouts, nor would they cut people. As someone with no cheer experience, Warren felt it wasn’t her place to exclude people.
Warren grew an unofficial student group, unrecognized by Student Activities, and recruited people with cheer backgrounds and people like herself with no experience with the activity.
Cheer Club differs from the dance team in that there are no tryouts and they lead cheers. The dance team, funded by Athletics, auditions for their positions and the group leads cheers and performs choreographed dances during basketball timeouts.
Sophomore Kira Shockowitz cheered in high school and wanted to find a community on campus. She quickly became part of the group since its founding, later becoming treasurer.
“A lot of people don’t go to the girl’s basketball game,” Shockowitz said. “I thought it’d be really nice to get more people out there to cheer for them.”
From the beginning, the group had a goal of increasing student participation at basketball games and getting more people into cheering and school spirit. By creating tutorial videos and instructional sheets, cheer’s leadership has made it easier, less intimidating and shame-free to teach members with no experience.
“Last year I had never cheered before,” junior Mireysi Ventura Rivera said. “One of the girls who is now my super good friend took time out of her day to do extra practice with me to make sure I got all the stuff right.”
Ventura Rivera saw a flyer for the new club in Mehling Hall and decided to give it a shot, eventually working on the club’s marketing and managing their Instagram account.
“I like trying out new things and I played sports so I never got to try cheer,” Ventura Rivera said. “I became really good friends with people on the team.”
In the past year and a half, the student group has grown in number and style, now elevated to the status of a club. Thanks to the leadership of Warren and Shockowitz, the club is now more organized and structured, but less strict and more focused on fun. There are now close to 18 participating members, most of whom perform at basketball games — their goal of inclusivity attracted many people with and without cheer experience.
Having a booth at the activities fair also recruited new members, including their first male member — junior Henry Prentice. Prentice was a stuntman in high school, which he describes as putting people in the air where the guys are expected to do the heavy lifting.
“It’s like starting a riot,” Prentice said about cheering. “You get to yell at people and throw people in the air.”
Moving forward, the club is looking for a coach so they can do stunts and more dynamic cheer performances. Under university policy for liability reasons, as an official student organization, the group needs to hire a coach to oversee the acrobatics. To stunt, they also need actual space in the Chiles Center beyond just stands in the student section, also requiring mats.
They also aspire to have a larger campus presence, to cheer at soccer games with the Villa Drum Squad and do some fundraisers. Becoming a recognized club provided the group with funding opportunities to help achieve their long-term goals.
At the end of the day, outside of cheer, the team is still a team and this club created a vessel for networking, mentoring and friendship.
“There’s younger nursing students who I’ve helped with notes … I walked them through a bunch of things,” Warren, a nursing student, explained. “That’s something cool to all get to hang out with people we don’t usually see in class.”
Morgan Wahler is a sports reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.