They train in the gym twice a week, not including time spent during games—or even the conditioning they do outside the structured practices. They compete at a national level and are in season for over seven months. But despite being a loud presence at many Columbia sporting events, the cheerleading team is one of Columbia’s hidden student-group gems.
For years, this group of dedicated students has been rallying school spirit around sometimes less-than-spectacular sports teams, keeping up a steady stream of cheering that might deceive a casual observer into believing there are more fans crowded into Levien.
The cheerleading squad is a diverse group, including members from Columbia College, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Barnard College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and even graduate schools. Although the group expects dedication from its members, it welcomes those with all levels of experience.
“We have a good mix of anywhere from starters—beginning cheerleaders with no experience—to people who have cheered all their lives, and it balances out really well,” Marielle Young, CC ’13 and co-captain of the cheerleading team, said. “As long as you’re enthusiastic and have a great attitude and are willing to work hard, I think cheer would be a good fit.”
Despite the inclusive mentality associated with cheerleaders, it would be wrong to assume that they are not competitors. The program has immensely improved over the past few years, and the team has participated in the National Cheerleaders Association College Nationals.
“I think a lot of people don’t know that we compete at nationals and we place every year,” Young said.
The cheerleaders are equally dedicated to their sport on and off the court. Unlike many other Light Blue teams, the cheerleaders have to raise the money themselves to be able to go to nationals.
“It’s a project throughout the year,” Young said. “It’s a huge team effort to fundraise.”
This year, the team mailed letters to friends and alumni and organized a youth camp, teaching kids the basics of cheerleading and preparing them to perform at halftime during a football game.
Young said many alumni contribute to the fundraising efforts and stop by practices when they can to lend their expertise.
The fundraising efforts, the involvement of the alumni, and the long season all bring the cheerleading squad together into a community.
As director of sports marketing, Daniel Spiegel has been a first-hand witness to the growth of the program for the last eight years.
“Every year, they get better,” he said. “They understand the dedication it takes to be a good cheerleading team, and I also think that their coach deserves a lot of credit.”
Head coach Yavonia Wise has brought the team to new heights. A former Georgetown University cheerleader, she understands what it takes for cheerleaders to be exceptional performers who genuinely contribute to the fan experience at games. With her at the helm, the cheerleading team looks to perform well at the United Spirit Association Nationals in March in Anaheim, Calif.
“Every year, we expect higher standards, and that’s just the natural projection of where we want to be,” Spiegel said. He predicts that the partnership between the coach and the cheerleaders will drive the program to continue to climb the ladder of improvement.
“They’re always coming up with suggestions and ways to improve,” Spiegel said, “so they deserve a lot of credit for that as well.”