Wheaton students’ awareness of its cheer team is similar to their knowledge of the science center door connecting to the library stacks level: most are ignorant to its existence, but the few who do know about it realize its potential.
Kika Chatterjee ’18 and Julie Januskis ’18, co-captains of the Wheaton Cheer Team, shed light on their team and its presence on campus. Chatterjee and Januskis have been part of the cheer team since they were freshmen and have evolved over the years into the roles they play today in teaching and leading the new cheerleaders.
Currently, the cheerleading team has 13 members, including nine new recruits. The captains believe that the campus’ interest in cheerleading has grown over the years, with this year’s tryouts stretching into two days. According to the captains, the cheer team’s presence on campus has never been nonexistent. “I think it’s more like if you run more in that athletic circle, you’re gonna know who we are, especially if you go to basketball games,” said Chatterjee.
The issue the team faced was, rather, not being recognized as a club sport. “We had locked down HAAS as our practice spot through October, and then the day before tryouts they took us out due to scheduling conflicts,” Chatterjee said. She added, “It was kind of annoying because it was like cheer coming in as second priority to other sports.” Chatterjee recounted how all senior female athletes except the senior cheerleaders were recognized during Women’s Sports Day. “It was very awkward,” she said.
Januskis agreed and also pointed out the need to be given more priority to practice at HAAS. “Because we do cheer [in the Haas Gymnasium], it’s difficult to practice on a completely different floor…then have to go figure it out the day before the game,” she said. The captains reasoned that the problem was likely due to not having a coach and being seen as only a club rather than a club sport.
How does the team tackle these issues? According to Januskis, by “just aggressively being there and just doing what we do. Every year we come back and impress more and more people.” The cheer team has also added more tumblers, started basic stunting, bought new uniforms and worked on improving skill sets to look polished and professional.
Such efforts toward cheerleading reflect the team’s passion for cheer. Chatterjee, who cheered all through middle school and high school, said, “I love the glamour of cheerleading. I love doing all my makeup, I love the bow. The glamour is a part of it.” She added, “It’s so athletic and people don’t know how athletic it is. Just hitting those motions is such a strain on your muscles.”
The idea of competing with other schools’ cheer teams excites the captains, but they believe the team has more to improve on first. They said that the cheer team has “very limited things to do without a coach due to national sanctions.”
The captains agree that there is a stigma associated with cheerleading. According to Januskis, “Cheerleading has always been an independent entity. It’s not dependent on basketball. If they never did a basketball game again, we would still be cheerleading…because we love [it].”
The Wheaton Cheer Team represents diversity and reflects non-conformity to stereotypes. “We come from all parts of the campus. I’m a pink-haired and tattooed feminist girl, but cheerleading is my favorite thing I do here,” said Chatterjee. “And we cheer at both men’s and women’s home basketball games.”
The captains envision “bring[ing] lots of promise and good things to the table with [a] new batch of cheer on the team.” Be sure to be on the lookout for the cheer team yelling and cheering at games — and maybe even check out the science center door in the library stacks, too.