My name is Rachel and I’m the Club Captain of the Chester Vixen for 2017-18 season.
Chester Vixen may be 4x Future Cheer National Champions, but we have such a long way before we can even think about that fifth consecutive title. Cheer From Head To Toe has tasked us with writing a monthly blog summarising the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with university cheerleading. We’re going to share how we run a society alongside managing our university workloads, pressures and of course, fighting for that all important five-peat at Future Cheer University Nationals.
Think your All-Star team are a close-knit family? It gets even closer at university. We have of course training and competitions, but also have weekly socials, team bonding days, charity events and fundraising, and getting involved in other campaigns. Running a successful club, linking all of those things can be difficult, so we have a committee of students to run the show. All ten of our committee members were voted in at the end of last season by our members.
Here at Chester we have 3 teams: Pom, All Girl Level 1 (known as “Cheer”) and our side-line team, Prep Squad. Each team is run by two captains. As a university sports club, we have many pressures from our Students Union we need to fulfil. We have a membership target, fundraising target, SU involvement, volunteering etc., all in order to receive the same funding for the following year. Unlike All-Star cheer where try outs are usually around May-July time, we can’t host any try-outs until October. Freshers (first year students) don’t arrive until the end of September. And we can’t host any formal training sessions until then either. Therefore, our committee and returning members have the job of promoting our club to all students during Freshers Week. When you think about the All-Star calendar, September is extremely late to be recruiting. Any committee member from any sport will tell you that Freshers Fair is dog-eat-dog. Every sport and society are fighting for members, so it’s up to us to put on our biggest smiles and friendliest faces to have people sign up. Thankfully, we had over 190 students sign up at Freshers Fair!
Then came Taster Sessions. The majority of people we recruit have never cheered before, so Taster Sessions give them a snippet of what they’re getting themselves in for. Our Captains were all nervous beforehand, not only nervous to lead the sessions, but whether anyone would turn up, and what talent we’d have.
The first Taster session was Cheer, ran by myself and Millie – what a rollercoaster it was. We had two taster sessions, focusing the Sunday on stunting and tumbling, and the Wednesday focusing on dance and jumps. About 75% of the team from last year have left as they have now graduated – this is the major downfall of university cheerleading, the constant conveyor belt of athletes. That is why it is so difficult for uni teams to be consistent year upon year. So we were really nervous about who was going to turn up for taster sessions. If we’re being honest, the first Taster Session was a bit wobbly. Tumbling abilities were great, but we were stunting in groups with people who had never stunted before, and we struggled to get past gut level. With Future Cheer in 4 months’ time, we were panicking.
The next Taster Session was for Pom, ran by Ellen and India.
They did a Zumba warm up and everyone came out with smiles on their faces. There was so much talent in the room! There are good things coming for Pom this year, I can tell! Similarly, Prep Squad’s Taster Session was a hit! Everyone seemed to enjoy the dance that Summer was teaching and there was a high turnout!
Next came Try Outs. This year we mixed it up a bit. We had Freshers and returning members try out separately. Myself and Millie decided we wanted to make Try Outs fairer by having everyone show us their jump, tumble, stunt and dance abilities. Previously we’ve only ever jumped and tumbled, or just danced. Knowing this would take more time, we split them up. For both Pom and Cheer, returning members’ Try Outs were really messy (on our part). We didn’t have time to see everything from everyone, and had to rely on competition videos from last season. Thankfully, it was just in front of returning members, so we used that as our practise. Then came our Freshers’ Try Outs, the real deal.
On the night, we had Pom Try Outs first, followed by Cheer. Prep-Squad is a team open to all, and therefore they don’t have Try Outs. Before our allotted time for Try Outs, an outside company use the gymnasium. Knowing they usually get out late, and that we were very time restricted for Try Outs, we were worried about getting in on time. As expected, there was a slight issue with them running over, and their leaders staying in the gymnasium being distracting during our Try Outs. This is one of the many issues we face as a university sports club, a high demand for facilities but not enough space being a relatively small university. We did complain about this company afterwards to our Students Union, and we weren’t the first club to complain either. They have been better since.
Other than that slight blip, both Pom and Cheer’s Try Outs went so swiftly, without a kink. We were really impressed with the turnout and the effort everyone put in.
We’re almost there. After Try Outs we spent three hours and a Papa John’s pizza picking the teams. Pom were slightly quicker. They knew what they wanted from their athletes and had such a high pool of talent to choose from. With Cheer, we drafted individuals to be on the team, and then had to redraft based on stunt groups. We had to move people around, sometimes into their non-preferred positions, but as I said before Try Outs, we are first and foremost cheerleaders, not specific positions. After deciding stunt groups, knowing they’d be strong, we were feeling a lot better than at that first Taster Session! The following day, results emails were sent. It was unfortunate that some people didn’t make Cheer or Pom, even though we wished we could have put everyone on. Something we said in the email is that those who made the team weren’t necessarily the best, but the best fit together. We also invited them to join Prep Squad and I was really glad to see much of those turn up to the session.
We chose to dedicate one of the first training sessions as a full team training session. It’s rare that we all train together as we each have so much to do, so it was nice for all three teams to bond and get to know each other. We set everybody up into “Cheer Buddies”. These were basically pairs or groups of threes with a returning member and a Fresher, and had them introduce each other. I hope it allowed people to get talking to someone they may not have previously, and ask any questions they had to someone with more experience. We then had a classic game of Chicken in the Hen House to warm up. Afterwards we got into our 3 teams, got ourselves all tangled up by holding hands and attempted to unravel. Pom ended up giving up as the tensions got too high. Prep Squad had to start again, but eventually made it. Cheer had the biggest group so it got very hot and stressful. But it’s safe to say we were the champions of that game – we only cheated twice! And finally, we had a quick fitness test, so we can see how we improve over the year. All in all, a success!
Another form of team bonding we all enjoy are our socials. Our first social was on a Wednesday night. It was our annual White T-Shirt themed social. It’s a great one for everyone to get to know each other, by writing on each other’s t-shirts with marker pens. We then had a purple themed social and a joint social with Men’s Basketball for Halloween. Our Socials are organised by Jess and David, our Social Secs. Here’s what Jess had to say about her first month as Social Sec:
“I have enjoyed training and the basketball games so far. I have found organising the socials a little stressful but they have turned out to be good nights, and I’m pleased with how many of the girls come out on the socials. Also helping Summer choreograph the dance for Prep Squad has been fun, and I’m impressed with how quickly the girls have picked up the routine. Balancing all of this with uni has been ok so far.”
Another major part of cheerleading at the University of Chester is charity fundraising. We have a charity Officer, Jodie, who organises all our events. Our first Charity event was “Milking it For Money”. We all donated £2 to the cause, and danced whilst being squirted with water guns filled with fake milk. If you want to watch us making a fool of ourselves, here’s the
Overall, we raised £57.35 for Chester Without Abuse and Rethink mental health. Jodie has many more charity ideas up her sleeve so keep your eye out. Our next big event is our annual Sponsored Sleep out in aid of Chester Aid to the Homeless. We sleep outside for a night, enduring the cold, experiencing just a fraction of what the homeless do every day. If you’re interested, check out our Facebook page for more information (Chester Vixens).
Behind the Scenes:
I was told by the previous Vice Club Captain, that people treat University Cheer much differently than All-Star Cheer. This has stuck with me as I wasn’t too sure what she meant until we started training. I always knew coaching this demographic would be difficult because the team are my friends, my age, and I’m also on the team. Getting the coach/teammate balance is difficult on both sides. Luckily, all seems to be going well now, and sessions are running smoothly. Myself and Millie were really confident in the team we picked, the stunt groups and the positions we put people in. It’s been really helpful that me and Millie came to these decisions mutually and back each other completely.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that committee members get up to a lot behind the scenes. Whilst many of our members had a well-deserved break over the summer, as Club Captain, my summer was jam packed with running different errands for cheerleading. There was committee training, lots of health and safety forms, updating the Cheerleading section on the SU’s website, contacting local businesses for sponsorship, getting our training times and liaising with other club captains to get a time that suited us, a constant conveyor belt of emails, first aid courses, arranging choreography, creating posters and leaflets for Freshers Fair, Pre-Season training, session planning and uniforms. Now uniforms are a big thing for us this Season. Each team is getting a new uniform, as Cheer have had theirs for 5 years! We’ll talk more about the new uniform process in our next article, once they’ve all been ordered.
We’ve also done a massive rebrand of Prep-Squad, which was previously called “Team”. Here’s what Summer had to say after her first month of Captain of Prep Squad:
“As Prep Squad Captain, we have been trying to rebrand the team, by giving them a new name and a new uniform! This has gone really well and has given the girls more confidence with side-line cheer. During the first month I have choreographed the dance and begun teaching it to Prep Squad. The team have attended their first basketball game and got to know the team. We aim to be performing our routine at the games in December! Most recently we cheered at a Men’s 2nd game where they won their cup game, this was very exciting for the team to experience. We hope to be cheering at many more winning games!”
It Has been quite hard managing the club with my university workload, especially as I’m now doing a Masters degree. Millie has also said that she often finds herself doing more Cheer related things than uni. But as the weeks progress, we’re settling into our roles more and are better able to manage our time.
So that’s everything for October. But it doesn’t stop there, we have so much planned in the upcoming weeks. We are getting involved in Children in Need and the Samaritans’ Operation Christmas Child. We’ll be hosting a night to raise money to help with the cost of our uniforms. Hannah, our Treasurer will be helping us order uniforms, competition entries and hotels. Cheer are having their choreography day at the end of November (on my birthday, typical!). We will also be getting involved with the “This BUCS Girl Can” campaign, to get more females involved in sport. It’s a campaign I’m quite passionate about, so I can’t wait to host a fun cheer-fit session for everyone to get involved in.
That’s it from me. I hope you’ve enjoyed our first edition and continue to follow us throughout the season.
until next time guys