Sports quiz: What is the only Southwestern College athletic squad to ever win a national championship?
Baseball? Strike out.
SWC’s only national sports titlist is its 2006 and 2007 cheerleading teams.
Yet this high-flying squad of men and women remains an underfunded afterthought. SWC cheerleaders often spend more than $1,000 out of their own pockets to don the Jaguar sweater and support other teams.
College cheer is still not recognized as a sport in California and therefore the program does not receive funding from the school. Cheer coach Nina Williams admits the lack of funding and respect is tough to overcome. Forcing cheerleaders to make monthly payments to be on the team is a major disincentive, she said.
“A lot of the cheerleaders are going to school fulltime and working (to earn money and to be on the team),” she said. “If they do not meet their (monthly) balance, then they are not able to cheer.”
Williams and cheer advisor Patti Moore choose to cut back on costly competitions to keep the program alive, a painful decision for a competitive team like SWC’s. Moore, who was been with the program for 26 years, said that despite the hard work and dedication every cheerleader puts into the squad, the college has never supported the team.
“We always have one or two (prospective cheerleaders) that come in with the best intentions,” she said. “Then they realize that they cannot get the money (to continue) and will drop out.”
Payments for cheerleaders are generally stretched over a six-month period ranging from $300 to $350 a month. Many times a student-athlete cannot keep up with the payments, Williams said.
Cheerleader Leslie Martinez said absences as a result of unpaid balances are common.
“At the first (football) game some of us were not able to perform because some were not able to pay for it,” she said. “We feel sad because we want them to be cheering with us, but we understand.”
SWC Athletic Director Jim Spillers has given tremendous moral support to the cheerleading squad, Williams said. Spillers said he thinks the cheer team should be fully funded and considered it a full competitive sport.
Spillers is not alone. At least 35 states and the District of Columbia consider cheerleading a sport. The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) began to officially recognize cheer as a high school sport this fall. Cheer is also considered a full sport by the United States Olympic Committee and is under consideration as an Olympic sport in the near future. NCAA officials are also pushing to make cheerleading a sport at American universities.
Spillers said he thinks collegiate cheer has fallen through the cracks in California, but that may change.
“(Cheerleaders) operate like any other sport on this campus,” he said. “There are enough parallels to recognize it as a sport.”
Williams said she and the cheerleaders appreciate Spillers’ support.
“Over the years, I have seen a lot of (variation in the level of) support,” she said. “It has been really nice having someone who is not only supportive of cheer, but who understands cheer.”
Spillers said cheerleaders are hard-working student-athletes and an indispensible part of Jaguar athletics.
“They should be funded as any other sport,” he said.
Spillers said the federal government needs to recognize cheerleading as a sport or funding will likely remain nonexistent.
“(Changing the funding mechanism) is what really needs to be done,” he said. “What will help them is if we can schedule more competitions.”
Competitions were cut back by Williams because they are an additional cost that many cheerleaders could not afford, she said.
Cheerleading is growing in popularity as a competitive sport across the United States, but in the meantime the Jaguars squad fights for time in the gym, struggles to stay afloat financially and keeps trying to elbow its way into a place at the funding table.
Cheer should not be a hobby at Southwestern, Williams said.
“(Cheer is) just like any other sport that requires 100 percent dedication,” she said. “They are asked to work just as hard, perform just as hard and be the best that they can be.”
Plus, she said, Southwestern’s former national champs are, themselves, worth cheering for.