The Weber State University Spirit Squad is hoping to return from Florida with something more than seashells this April.
The WSU Spirit Squad will be leaving Utah to attend a national cheerleading and dance competition in Dayton Beach, Florida from April 7-13. This will be the teams’ sixth appearance at a national competition in Florida since 2008.
As a combination of the Weber State cheerleading and dance teams, the Spirit Squad has been under the direction of Summer Willis since 1999. The squad began competing in the early 2000’s in Anaheim, California under the direction of Willis, eventually attending competitions in Florida a few years later.
Since that very first competition in California the Weber State cheer team has placed in the top three at every competition they have ever been to. Three of those competitions however, the team didn’t just finish in the top three—they finished in first place making them national champions.
Tyrel Gailey, who is currently the assistant coach of the cheer team, was a member of the Spirit Squad when they won the three national titles. The first national title was won in 2009 at a competition in Daytona Beach and the other two titles were won at national competitions in California in 2012 and 2013.
For Gailey, being a three time national champion is definitely something to be proud of and for a different reason for each championship. The first national title WSU won has a significant meaning to him because it was only the second time the team had been to an East Coast competition and they surprised everyone, including themselves.
“Going into that competition we didn’t expect to win, we just wanted to do well,” said Gailey, “In Daytona the level of competition is high and it is anybody’s game and this year the team is hoping that it’s their turn.“
Over the years the level of competition has grown tremendously, said Willis. Cheerleading has evolved in difficulty and skills keep getting more demanding which has created an increase in skilled and talented cheerleaders. Weber is a great example of that, with a reputation for excellence, the Spirit Squad has some incredibly talented members.
“We’ve built a tradition,” said Willis, “Year after year, squad member’s work hard to develop their talents.”
And it shows. However, it isn’t just their skills on the mat that Willis is proud of. The athletes on the Spirit Squad are, above all else, students said Willis, and good ones at that. Due to the emphasis on education, as well as cheer, the student athletes on the Spirit Squad have been gaining some recognition on campus.
At a recent school event honoring student athletes who maintain a grade point average above 3.2, the Spirit Squad had 12 members receive awards with one member even joining the 4.0 club. Willis notes that the Spirit Squad’s members are encouraged to focus on their school work and are taught how to balance their work on the mat as well as their work in the classroom.
The Spirit Squad has also been gaining some local attention, and not just for their grades. Since the team’s back to back national championship wins in Anaheim, the Spirit Squad has continued to receive positive attention in the community.
“I think people have started to realize that we are more than just sideline cheerleaders,” said Spirit Squad junior Kenrod James. “Cheering on the sports teams is important, but now that their seasons are done people are starting to acknowledge us as a team.”
Hoping to keep up the recognition, and gain even more student and community support, the WSU Spirit Squad will be having a sendoff performance April 6 at 6 p.m. at the Dee Events Center. The event is open to the public. It will cost $6 to get in and the team invites and encourages everyone to attend.
“It will be a whole show,” says Willis, “and it’s the last chance for the team to perform for our home crowd before we leave to compete.”
The sendoff will feature a silent auction and raffle as well as performances from local dance and cheerleading teams and the Weber State dance team. The sendoff will also include a performance from WSU’s very own Waldo the Wildcat, who will be making his first ever appearance as a stand-alone competitor in the mascot division at the competition.
“The season for cheer is a full year long,” said Willis, “So being able to compete and show all the talent is a nice end to the year and the team is very excited.”