Texas Wesleyan University declared the cheerleading and dance teams as varsity emerging sports in November 2013.
But it’s only this semester that they’re competing as sports against other universities and, according to head cheerleading coach and dance team coordinator Carolyn Ikens, receiving the respect they deserve.
“We get a little more respect being a competition team,” she said. “I recruited for competition cheerleaders and prepared the team for this change.”
The teams spent the summer and fall of 2014 training and preparing for the 2015 season, which runs from January to March.
On Jan. 23 , the dance team won second place in its first competition. The team competed in Belleville, Ill. against teams from Stephens College, Missouri Baptist, and five others.
Dance and cheerleading were formerly considered recreational sports, but moved from being part of student life to the Athletic Department as a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Title IX sport on June 1, 2014.
After several attempts by the NAIA to make Wesleyan’s cheerleading and dance a sport Athletic Director Steven Trachier and President Frederick Slabach approved the pronouncement for the 2014-2015 school year.
Trachier said he is very excited to see the teams competing.
“Our goal is to grow the school and the sport,” he said. “We wanted to be on the ground floor of this movement, to make it be recognized as a sport. We will see a ton of schools apart of this in the near future. We have known for years that It takes a high degree of athleticism to be in cheer and dance.”
This decision to become a Title IX sport was not easy, said Ikens.
“We had the decision to stay a recreational sport or to compete,” Ikens said. “It has been a big adjustment this year. There have been a lot of changes and rearrangements but overall it has been a good year.”
Cheerleader Kayla Middleton said she can feel a difference in the way the cheerleading team is treated by some people and departments.
“We are taken more seriously now then when we were just an organization,” she said. “In the future I see the team expanding and getting more recognition from other departments on campus.”
The team now has to conform to new NAIA criteria, which in addition to reporting to the Athletic Department includes attending three regular competitions and one qualifying competition this semester, Ikens said.
“We hope for nationals in March,” she said.
During competition, the dance team performs a routine consisting of pom, jazz, and hip-hop, while the cheer team performs group stunts, jumps, pyramids, and dance for exactly two minutes and fifteen seconds. Both teams are judged on a 100-point system.
The teams meet for practice and work out three days a week and once a month with a group of Army veterans in order to stay in shape for competition, Ikens said.
Due to the competition schedule, the teams can only attend two basketball games a month, she said, which is hard for some to understand.”
“We are no longer a traditional team which is what most people see,” she said. “The team will be considered a sport equal to other sports.”
There are two types of teams in cheer and dance, traditional and competitive, and next year Wesleyan hopes to have both to accommodate the need to both compete and be at sports events, Ikens said.
The teams are scheduled to leave for their qualifying competition in Salina, Kan. on Feb. 26. and will compete on Feb. 27.
Middleton is happy about the teams becoming recognized as varsity emerging sports and believes the change will give people a more positive view of cheerleading.
“Many people just thought that cheer and dance is something that is done for fun but it actually requires just as much work as the other sports,” Middleton said.