Baylor spirit squads react to lost season

Members of Baylor's Songleaders dance during a home Baylor basketball game. Brittney Matthews | Multimedia Editor

By Stasya Hopp | Reporter

In not so high spirits, sports seasons have been cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and not only are those athletes struggling to deal with the effects of the virus, but the men and women who cheer them on are too.

The Baylor spirit squads have a long-established presence on the sidelines of football, volleyball and basketball games, but also partake in competitions of their own. The Baylor Songleaders regularly compete in the National Championship in Las Vegas held by Dance Team Union.

But not this year. Nationals were canceled. On top of that, the cancellation of the Big 12 and NCAA basketball tournaments effectively ended all cheering opportunities for Baylor’s spirit squads.

Sophomore Songleader Alex Tatum said their coach called each member individually to tell them they wouldn’t be performing at the Big 12 Tournament, and with that call the rest of the season fell away “piece by piece.”

According to Tatum, the squad isn’t holding any more team workouts or practices. Instead, members are expected to work out on their own and are encouraged to send in videos of their workout. Sophia Donahue, also a sophomore Songleader, said they are “holding each other accountable” and have to be “self-responsible” for training themselves.

Donahue said for those on all-girl or co-ed cheer as well as the Songleaders dance team, the first semester of the school year is “focused on football season and representing Baylor,” while the second semester is more for them as a team.

“We grow in our technique and as a team and working together and coming up with dances during the spring semester,” Donahue said. “It’s a really good team bonding season that strengthens our team overall as a whole.”

With the classes moving online and all athletic activity being canceled for the remainder of the academic year, Tatum added that the loss of the spring semester was particularly difficult for senior students on the team.

“All my friends were crying and upset. Their dance career is done, and they had no idea,” Tatum said. “They got their last semester of school taken away, but also something that they’ve been doing forever taken away too. We had no clue we were dancing with some of them for the last time”

Another aspect of the spirit squads that has been affected by COVID-19 is their tryout method. Typically, there are preliminary and final stages of tryout which are done as a group. Girls perform solos, but also perform the Fight Song (which Tatum noted as the most important part) multiple times in different groups to see how contenders mesh with the team.

This year, however, all tryouts of hopeful new members will have to be sent in by video. Tatum said this would be different because members won’t get to watch solos or “cheer people on and encourage them,” nor will they see how incoming girls will blend with the team.

Tatum and Donahue both said they believe their coaches will pick a good team, and that Coach Kristen Hankins does a good job knowing what she’s looking for when picking people from videos.

“I have full faith,” Tatum said.

Unfortunately, Tatum said there’s no extra year of eligibility in the running for seniors on Baylor’s spirit squads as there potentially is for the athletes of other teams, so they can’t come back another year to dance.

Donahue said some girls would “die to be on the football field” for as many years they could be and if they had the option to return, they “would do it in a heartbeat.”

“I think it opened everyone’s eyes to take in every moment while you can,” Donahue said. “That’s something our coaches always stress. When you’re out on a football field, take it all in. You never know when it could be your last game.”