The University of Indianapolis Cheerleading Squad can be seen cheering on the sidelines at home games for men’s basketball and women’s basketball and football. According to Head Coach Tessa Wolsiffer, the squad is able to bring a great game day atmosphere.
“We [the squad] always laugh when I talk to the basketball coaches, because we don’t cheer over Christmas [winter] break, and they will have maybe one or two games at home over Christmas [winter] break,” Wolsiffer said. “They’re like, ‘It’s just so different when you guys are here.’ I think it’s just a combination of the cheerleaders and the pep band and the dance team and just really making that fun, lively, excited atmosphere.”
Wolsiffer, an alum of the UIndy cheer squad, has been coaching the team since 2006 after finishing both undergraduate and graduate school at the university. Cheerleading at UIndy was special because the squad felt like a family, and she said she made good friends that she still speaks to today.
According to junior cheerleader Laremie Maschino, the current squad has a good friendship. They have fun and do team bonding activities together, she said. At the beginning of each year, Wolsiffer said she tells the girls that their squad does not participate in the drama that cheerleading can be known for. The girls grow to appreciate and respect each other, she said.
“I always tell the girls ‘I don’t care if you’re friends outside of cheerleading, but when we’re here, we’re a team.’ We really push that team atmosphere,” Wolsiffer said.
Part of the squad’s closeness is due to COVID-19 making it smaller, according to Maschino. In her freshman year, the team was made up of 22 girls, now there are 14, she said. In 2020, the squad did not cheer at all and this has been their first competitive year since COVID-19 started, according to Wolsiffer. They are hoping to add to next year’s squad with tryouts being held on April 24, she said.
“I know that some of the girls had to do video tryouts for their tryouts instead of doing it in person like I did my freshman year,” Maschino said. “And then it’s been different for me because I’ve been a returner, so they haven’t been making returners try out again, whereas this year, I will have to re-tryout because they’re going back to how they used to do it pre-COVID[-19].”
As the only remaining cheerleader from her freshman year, Maschino had to take on a lot of leadership responsibilities, she said. She gets practices started if the coaches are running late, leads stretches and decides what uniform they will wear, and she said learning leadership through cheerleading has helped her in her classes.
“I think that I have always felt like I’m not really the leadership personality,” Maschino said. “So it’s forced me to really step out of my comfort zone … I think it’s boosted my confidence a little bit, and it’s helped me be able to be a little bit more outgoing, and to be able to ask questions. Like if there’s something happening in a group project, and there needs to be someone that takes the lead of it, then I’m willing to make that step.”
Wolsiffer said she loves to see the girls grow as people during their time on the squad. She said she likes having the opportunity to help them become mature adults with skills that will help them throughout their lives.
“I really feel like part of our job is helping them to become productive citizens and to have good job skills and social communication skills, and all the things needed to leave the university and have a job and be productive and just represent our university well,” Wolsiffer said.
Maschino said the squad deals with others talking negatively about cheerleading. Women’s sports getting more recognition has helped cheerleading as well, she said. However, people will make a distinction between competition cheerleading and sideline cheerleading and what counts as a sport, according to Maschino.
“I think that cheerleading in all forms is a sport because … we do lift each other. We have tumbling requirements that we have to meet. We do a lot of jumping and jump back handsprings, there’s a lot of physical activity that goes into our sport,” Maschino said.
Wolsiffer loves that a cheer squad is a specific group of people who can promote your school, she said. The squad takes a lot of pride in being the face of the university at events, according to Wolsiffer.
“I think that’s [cheerleading] so important,” Wolsiffer said. “I think it’s important for athletes to have an opportunity to continue on at a collegiate level and support their teams.”