2005-06 cheer squad is heard, loud and clear

Justin Satzman

Daily Sundial

Basketball players are some of the most athletic human beings on the planet. Their jumping ability is measured in feet instead of inches and they have quickness that resembles a cat. What many fans forget is that there are other athletic performers in the arena that do not wear shorts. They are the ones who make sure the home crowd is loud. They entertain fans during halftime and timeouts. They are the Cal State Northridge cheer squad.

This year’s cheer squad consists of 16 members, and has been cheering together for more than three months. They have been to every men’s and women’s home basketball game. They were also cheering in the stands when the men’s soccer team beat UCSB to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 last November.

“Cheerleading is a great way to network yourself, to have school spirit and to get involved,” Nicole Barbiera, a physical therapy grad student, said. “Because we (CSUN) are such a commuter college, it is hard to get involved if you do not make yourself involved.”

Barbiera, who is one of two captains, is in her fifth year on the squad and in her third year as a captain. She is the oldest member and the only grad student on the team.

“Cheerleading has really helped me become more involved with the school,” said Barbiera. “It has brought me to basketball games and to many other events that I would have never gone to. I have met people I never would have met. It has just become part of my life and not just a part of my college life.”

The other captain on the team is junior Rubi Castillo, who is in her third year on the team and is in her first year as a captain.

“I worked very hard my first two years to gain the leadership role and then I finally got captain,” said Castillo. “I delegate as far as getting things done on campus. I help out the coaches and I make sure the squad is doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

Being a captain on the cheer squad is not as glamorous as it sounds. Some of the responsibilities include going to extra meetings, going to ASREC events and running the sideline cheer. A captain is basically a coach on the floor, Barbiera said.

But like all teams, the Matador cheer squad has coaches, Brianne Strauss and Dawne Saunders. Both coaches are CSUN alums who graduated in 2002. Saunders lives in San Diego and is in Northridge as much as possible. Strauss, who cheered for CSUN from 1997 until 2001, is the coach on a full-time basis.

This is Strauss’ first year coaching cheer at the collegiate level, she had been coaching at the high school level for five years. She prefers the collegiate level to the high school level because of the maturity factor.

“I can talk to an athlete at the collegiate level and she understands the preparation it takes,” said Strauss. “I am not dealing with people’s parents anymore, I am dealing with adults.”

Another difference between the college and high school cheer is the legal aspect. In high school, cheer squads are not allowed to attempt certain stunts, such as a three-high pyramid because of safety reasons. However, in college, the women are allowed to try this stunt.

One similarity between college and high school cheer is that there are competitions for each level. This year’s cheer squad will be competing at the COA Competition on March 12 at UCI.

“I love doing competitions, I’m very competitive,” said Strauss. “I have always been a play to win type of girl so I want to go to competition having a really good routine.”

The routine that Strauss talked about has not been seen outside of practice, they have just begun to work on it. Strauss did acknowledge the team might demonstrate part of the routine during a game, but not the entire thing.

Coming up with a new routine is not easy but it is something that the squad must do as a whole. Strauss and Saunders work together to create a new stunt but then the team gets an opportunity to put their input in.

“Sometimes as a team we will be trying one thing and then something else kind of happens that might work,” Strauss said. “Our first thought after that is to try and make it legal and safe and then just go with it.”

Even though the cheer squad is considered an athletic program, it receives very little benefits. The cheerleaders receive no scholarships for participating in cheer. The squad members do not get credit for cheering, they rent their own uniforms and buy their travel bags and warm ups.

“The reason we do not receive school credit is because we are still under clubs and organizations, so we are here because we want to be here,” said Castillo. “But we are also considered under athletics because we do a lot for the athletics.”

Last year’s team tried to get book scholarships but were turned down because the school did not have the funds, Castillo said.

Fundraising is essential for the cheer squad. The cheer squad only cheers regularly during basketball season, so time is of the essence for fundraising. The 50/50 drawing that is done at halftime of every basketball game is an important fundraising tactic, Strauss said.

This year, the cheer squad has three male members.

“It is a lot of work but it is a lot of fun,” Aaron Wyner said. “The best part is seeing the crowds faces and seeing them saying ‘Wow, I can’t believe he is holding her up by himself’.”

Wyner is in his second year on the squad and did not realize how physically demanding cheer was. In high school, Wyner was a wrestler, which meant he had to stay in shape. But Wyner was amazed by the amount of concentration that was required to be in cheer.

“Cheer is a lot more controlled strength,” Wyner said. “It is not just trying to out-muscle someone. It is not as easy as it looks.”

When asked if he believes cheer is still a girls only sport, Wyner replied, “I would like to see them come out here and try it.”

Conditioning is also a major part of cheerleading.

“I workout six days a week, I eat six meals a day with 2,100 calories,” Wyner said. “I run three miles and then lift weights.”

Like most other clubs or sports on campus, members of the squad have become great friends.

“It seems the squad is close,” Strauss said. “I hear them saying that they all hang out and go to dinner.”

Even though cheering is rarely seen on ESPN and never talked about on sports radio, it is still a huge part of college athletics. Athletes will openly admit that having cheerleaders does help them when playing in games.

Justin Satzman can be reached at sports_sundial@csun.edu.