Athletic Director Dennis Janzen and Associate AD Mike Rupcich were looking for ways to increase spirit at home games. Lynn Reinhold, administrative assistant in the Student Life Office, knew students with cheer experience. "I could find the right people," she says.
First came Jacqueline Almanza, a student worker of Reinhold's with who cheered for two years in high school and had the personality to lead. Her reaction to her boss's pitch? "I said, Whoa, that's a lot of work…the next week I was making fliers," Almanza recalls.
May tryouts and recruiting yielded seven women and three men. "Anybody that came, whether they had experience or not, made the team," says Rheinhold, the team sponsor.
Among them were three freshmen: Breanna Ingram, a President's Scholar from Wyoming who's also on the diving team, where she qualified for nationals in 2011; and Erica Rivera and Trevor Thomas, both from Sunnyside High School a few minutes from the main FPU campus. Like Almanza, Ingram and Rivera had two years of high school cheer. Thomas was an innocent bystander, drafted when he came to watch Rivera practice. "I just thought it was a cool thing," he shrugs.
Was Thomas embarrassed? At first. "If they weren't staring, I felt like they were," he says. It's better now. "The girls were encouraging and I got over it," he adds.
Training consumed the summer as the group spent hours molding themselves into a team. Cheer is more than yelling and jumping—add stunts, pyramids, basket tosses, tumbling, springs and gymnastics. People are literally flying through the air. "We wanted that wow factor," Almanza says.
There's been a lot of growth from the beginners. "Half the team had never done a cartwheel. Now most are attempting backflips," Almanza says.
Huge thanks also go to Caryn Tong (pictured, with team), head coach and owner of BIG Gymnastics and Cheer in Fresno.
So far Cheer has participated in all home volleyball and men's basketball games as well as about half the women's basketball games. They plan to add more games next season, as well as a couple of cheer competitions. The squad is also sponsoring a cheer camp for 6-12-year-olds June 27-29. (visit fresno.edu/summercamps)
While the cheer squad hopes to boost the athletes, members have already made a difference to each other. Ingram and Rivera nearly left FPU. Rivera came to student life to sign papers, but Almanza took her to cheer practice instead. "It's not just a team it's a family," Rivera says.
Ingram was having financial and family problems. Reinhold helped her find finances, and the cheer team finished off her debt with a bake sale. "I can literally say if it wasn't for the squad I wouldn't be here," she says.
The word is out and students are now coming to FPU to cheer. "It's about building another niche on campus where students can have their community within the community," Reinhold says.
Want to be a cheerleader at FPU? (email firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Maintain a minimum 2.5 grade-point average. "That's real important to us," Almanza says.
- Be willing to learn and attend practice. "During the season our practices are until midnight twice a week, so you have to be committed," Ingram says.
- Be a team player. "Everybody on the squad hates drama," Ingram adds.
Count on some bruises at practice, but count on a lot of bonding.