Daring stunts and no off-season: Inside University of Tennessee’s Cheer Team
Members of the University of Tennessee Cheer Team are more than just smiling faces on the sidelines. They are gritty athletes who rely on strength, endurance and flexibility to pull off daring gymnastic stunts on gameday.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Tennessee Spirit Squad, which consists of the cheer team, dance team and mascot team, is more than just smiling faces energizing crowds on game day. The squad is made up of dynamic athletes with incredible endurance, strength and flexibility who defy gravity with jaw-dropping stunts and tumbling skills.
“I think they see us as we’re just down there smiling and looking pretty, and then we start doing the skills we throw and they’re like ‘wow,’” said Caroline Simpson, a senior on UT’s cheer team. She’s one of those smiling faces you see on game day.
WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara spent time with Simpson and the cheer team. Let’s just say her whole body hurt the next day!
The cheerleading team practices for two hours every day- and sometimes twice a day. They practice some pretty intense moves, sometimes being thrown into the air ten feet or higher.
“I like being able to do all the crazy stuff and I think it’s more thrilling than scary,” Simpson said.
Research by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows cheerleading has the second-highest rate of catastrophic injuries, behind only football. This means working together and trusting teammates is key.
“Safety? Oh, it’s a big-time thing. These girls are not only our teammates, but they’re our sisters. We have to take care of them,” Jack Culpit said.
There’s also no off-season for cheerleading. The team cheers for football games, basketball games, volleyball games and makes hundreds of public appearances.
The team also spends a lot of time preparing for the Universal Cheerleading Association’s (UCA) College National Championship. The University of Tennessee Cheer Team has won two national championships. In 2021 the team claimed the top prize in the Division 1A Game Day category. In 2020 the team won its first national title in the Game Day competition.
Despite the physical demand, cheerleading is not considered a sport, at least not in the eyes of the NCAA. A federal judge ruled it doesn’t have the organization, post-season structure or standardized rules to be considered a sport under Title IX. For many, however, it’s an inspiration.
“You never know who you’re going to inspire. You’re always having little girls coming up and they want to be you one day and you just have to remember that when you’re out there and you have your uniform on,” Simpson said.
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