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School spirit goes on strike

October 19, 2006

In an odd scene the week before Homecoming, UW-River Falls’ cheer and stunt squad left Saturday’s football game with five minutes on the clock without having done anything to support the Falcons.

Instead of pumping up the crowd during Saturday’s 20-17 victory against UW-Stevens Point, Cheer and Stunt President Amber Frome held a sign that said, “No Stunting = No Cheering.”

Frome said stunting, including human pyramids, jumps and tosses, are vital to the spirit of the squad.

“This isn’t something that’s new and crazy,” Frome said. “It’d be like telling the football players they have to play flag football.”

Frome said she received an e-mail Friday night from former Cheer and Stunt Advisor Jennifer Willis-Rivera, saying UW-RF had decided not to allow stunting.

Willis-Rivera said she was not informed the squad was planning a protest.

“It saddens me that they would take this action,” Willis-Rivera said. “They have not been prohibited from cheering, only from stunting.”

Fans at the game had mixed reactions to the squad’s actions, or lack thereof.
Kim Vande Yacht and her daughter Jessica said they were disappointed that the cheerleaders were not performing.

“It’s sad not to have the cheerleaders,” Vande Yacht said. “We’d like to see them cheering because that’s fun for us.”

Freshman Michelle Johnson said the cheerleaders’ actions reflected poorly upon UW-RF.

“If they’re not going to cheer they shouldn’t come,” Johnson said.

Freshman Colt Wright felt it affected the attitude of the crowd.

“It definitely kills team spirit without a doubt,” Wright said.

On Saturday, Frome said the Cheer and Stunt squad had pulled out of all Homecoming activities. Tuesday the squad changed its stance and decided to cheer during the Homecoming football game, even if they aren’t allowed to do stunts.

“We’ll be happy to be involved in anything we can for Homecoming,” Frome said.
Frome said it was not the squad’s intent to offend anyone or reflect poorly upon UW-RF.

The squad originally planned to play a major role in all Homecoming activities, but those plans changed after the protest on Saturday.

Homecoming Committee Chair Marcus Bonde said he worked closely with Frome.

“Even if they can’t do stunts, they can still cheer,” Bonde said. “It’s just unfortunate.”
Bonde said he’s happy the squad will be involved in some aspect.

“Homecoming’s about the spirit, and they help with that,” he said.

The decision not to allow stunting came after looking into the new safety regulations of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA).

The rules were updated following an accident in the spring involving a Southern Illinois cheerleader who suffered a cracked vertebra and concussion after falling from a 15-foot human pyramid during a basketball game.

The first rule states that all squads should have a qualified and knowledgeable advisor or coach.

Willis-Rivera said she is not a certified advisor and has no related background experience in cheering or stunting.

“Because of the AACCA guidelines, I am resigning from the position of advisor to the cheer and stunt team,” Willis-Rivera said.

She said she was asked to take the advisor position as a favor to former Cheer and Stunt President Michelle Dodge. 

The NCAA requires cheerleading coaches and advisors to complete an AACCA-certified safety course so the squad is included in the Catastrophic Insurance Program for the 2006-2007 season.

“Unfortunately I can’t invest that kind of time at this point,” Willis-Rivera said.  “Also, I truly do not have the ability to be at all of the cheerleaders’ practices.”

Having a certified advisor at all practices is also a requirement in the AACCA guidelines.
Frome said the Cheer and Stunt squad has found a new advisor and is in the process of finding a certified coach.

According to AACCA guidelines, another problem is the squad’s inadequate practice facilities. It is an issue that Frome and Willis-Rivera had attempted to address, to no avail.

The squad has been practicing on the racquetball courts in the basement of Karges. Frome said the low ceiling there is not conducive for practicing intricate stunts.

“To ensure the safety of our cheerleaders, we decided to prohibit them from doing further stunts until a time when we would be able to provide them with a safe place,” Willis-Rivera said.

Frome said the size of the cheerleading squad has increased to 30 members this year, magnifying the poor conditions in Karges.

Willis-Rivera said she holds no ill will toward the squad.

“I wish them well and hope they are able to find a qualified coach,” she said.

Frome said she was confused because UW-RF made investments in the squad and it was recently granted club sport status.

“The school just spent $3,000 on new uniforms,” she said.  “Now they’re going to just sit in a closet.”