‘Respect the athlete:’ Cheer team strives to remove stereotype


Mia Hennen

Following the removal of the mask mandate on March 3, the Shocker Spirit Squad enters Koch Arena unmasked before the men’s basketball game against East Carolina on March 5, 2022.

There are many fans that cheer at Charles Koch Arena during games but it’s Wichita State’s spirit squad that has an on-the-court view of the game. The Shockers spirit squad is composed of dancers and two separate cheerleading teams.

The spirit team has an all-girls cheer squad and a co-ed squad. The squads alternate each game for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball matches.

“We do a lot more than just shake our pom poms and wave at the crowd,” senior cheerleader Chloe Layman said.

Cheerleading is a high intensity sport that combines dance, tumbling, stunting and cheering.

“We do not only have to be athletes, we also have to smile while we’re doing our sport,” Head Coach Shalayne Richmond said. “A lot of what we do is based on appearance and having a smile on our face is part of it.”

Richmond said that the focus is on building up stamina and conditioning to make it through a two-minute 15-second routine to compete at nationals.

In the past, the cheer team has competed with Universal Cheerleaders Association and has now moved on to compete at the National Cheerleaders Association for more advanced competition. This year the team plans to attend the NCA Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Richmond said it will take a year to prepare a routine for nationals. They have to practice pyramids, basket tosses and sequences.

A lot of what the cheer team does for competitions cannot be replicated in a volleyball or basketball game because the floor is not suitable for stunts.

Cheerleading has to follow several different rule books –  NCA, American Cheerleaders Association and  USA Cheerleading.

The team practices and cheers all year round. They have little to no breaks with their busiest month being in November.

“You have the end of volleyball and the beginning of basketball,” junior cheerleader Addie Moore said.

Layman said that many cheerleaders take their classes in the evening because they have to work during the day. 

“We have been doing (this) since high school, so we’ve learned to work around it, it’s not like it’s anything new to us,” senior cheerleader Collin Lee said. 

Tatum Tholen was a former WSU cheerleader who cheered for four years and graduated last May. She is now the assistant cheer coach. 

“I’m really excited to be on the coaching side of things,” Tholen said.

Tholen said that the team has some work to do but that there is a lot of strength and potential. 

The cheer team holds tryouts every year in April and by definition will have a new team every year. 

“Since we have a new team, we are working together, seeing who works great with who, building the skills that we are going to need to be competitive,” Richmond said.

Aside from competing and cheering at games, Shocker cheerleading also makes community appearances. 

Tholen said that the Netflix show Cheer has an accurate representation of what competitive and collegiate cheer looks like. 

“Respect the sport, we’re athletes as well,” Tholen said.