The cheerleaders at UTD have had a hard time boosting their squad numbers, but the size of the team didn’t affect their recent competition performance.
UTD Cheerleading spreads school spirit at sporting events on campus, including volleyball and basketball games, as well as chess games and special events. It is led by head coach and spirit coordinator Jason Dollar, who has been coaching the team for four years. He has witnessed the growth of the cheerleaders for an entire freshman to senior cycle.
The cheerleading team recently competed in the National Cheerleaders Association Collegiate Cheer and Dance Competition in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I think the talent level at the university is getting stronger. We took the smallest team that we’ve ever taken since I’ve been here,” Dollar said. “It was a lot more about quality rather than about quantity, and I think that we’re getting there as a cheerleading team.”
The squad held first place on the first day of competition, a record for UTD, but ultimately placed fourth out of 19 schools in the Division II competition.
“Considering that it’s the first time ever that we’ve held the first place position at the university, even though we didn’t do as well day two, we fell in standings. To us it was a big feat being accomplished because we are just getting much better,” said Alexsandra Andino, a biology freshman.
Jose Alonso, a marketing junior, joined the team after seeing UTD Cheerleading at freshman orientation. He joined his first year and will conclude his education on the squad.
“Being on the team previous years, we’ve definitely increased a lot,” Alonso said. “Last year we competed in the National Cheerleading Association and that’s the year we had a perfect routine, perfect score, no mistakes. We placed sixth, but that was because that was the first year ever we switched to NCA. And this year, for the first time ever, we placed first on the first day of NCA, so it speaks numbers on UT Dallas as a whole.”
Despite being a Division III school, UTD competed among Division II colleges with groups of 20 cheerleaders. UTD’s squad was the smallest crew, with only 11 people cheering.
“We’re competing against teams who get scholarships and we don’t. It’s a huge time commitment to put forth all that effort, not getting a huge financial compensation from it,” Andino said.
The fact that the squad is made up of only 11 people makes it more of a time commitment for individual cheerleaders.
“It’s an extreme time commitment. It’s not just games, it’s so much more. You’re required to come to practice, you’re required to cheer at games, appearances. There will be days when they’ll say, ‘Hey, we need three cheerleaders for this event at this time,’ on the day of,” Alonso said.
The commitment to be on the team is not one that people can easily make, which ties into the relatively small size of the squad, Andino said.
“We do some pretty physically demanding things, we toss people in the air,” she said. “Once you get to the collegiate level, obviously your bodies aren’t at their peak. … It’s a lot more physically demanding, and it’s not something that someone could just pick up on the street.”
The team has a summer camp, and this past year several cheerleaders left the squad due to injury or other commitments. Dollar said it wasn’t hard to regroup because it was early in the season, but the crew has retained its small size.
“It’s hard to just keep trying to build the numbers up with the cheer team and the dancers because we do have a lot of appearances and games and things like that. It’s hard to try to make it to where everybody is not having to be at everything, just so we can grow the numbers up a little bit better,” Dollar said. “In Texas, it’s hard when you don’t have football for people to think you have cheerleading. Those seem to go hand in hand, so it’s just been difficult.”
Nonetheless, the team has seen an influx of applications after its performance at nationals.
“There are times that I do get frustrated because UT Dallas is so academically driven that it’s kind of like nobody has school spirit. But they see us walking around in uniforms, representing them, and people are like ‘Oh, we didn’t know we had cheerleaders, that’s so awesome,’” Alonso said. “Slowly and surely, people are taking notice. We have to motivate each other.”