The Loyola cheer team traveled to compete in a competition in Daytona, Florida, where they placed sixth in their division at the 2022 Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) & Universal Dance Association (UDA) College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship in January.
The university fully funds the cheer team when it comes to university events and the team performing on the sidelines at Loyola athletics events, but competition expenses aren’t included in that funding.
Head cheer coach Jackie Buhay-Castro explained that in order to compete, Loyola cheer must fundraise themselves, the program also has to fundraise to cover other extra expenses throughout its season.
“We’ve always fundraised in the past, just to make sure that we can keep ourselves covered with whatever extra expenses may surprise us and we have been really good about it and so we just hope to continue that,” Buhay-Castro said.
Buhay-Castro said this is common practice among collegiate cheer.
“You never see other universities giving $20,000 or however much it would cost to cover the expenses of a trip,” she said.
Sullivan said it was a dream come true to attend a competitive event and to place well as a team.
“For me, it was surreal because it’s a competition I’ve grown up watching online and on ESPN,” she said. “To even be in the same warm-up rooms, and taking the same floor as giant schools in the BIG-10 and SEC.”
Buhay-Castro has been the head cheer coach at Loyola since 2019. She had her first season cut short, was forced to take a year off, and then came back and led the Loyola cheer team to place sixth nationally.
“This is something very new for the cheer team, this was more of a way to just dip our toes into that competitiveness,” Buhay-Castro said. “The fact that we were able to perform such a successful routine really says a lot about our standards and how we’re going to continue to grow.”
Buhay-Castro said that she appreciates everything the university has done in support of the team since their win. The cheer team was recognized at both a men’s and a women’s basketball game after its national competition win. Although, so far all recognition from the school has been verbal, according to Buhay-Castro.
Cheerleaders occupy a unique role within Loyola athletics. Outside of their sideline cheering, they’re also athletes and ambassadors to the school, Buhay-Castro said. The team performs at PR, philanthropic and alumni events for the school.
The team’s season is also longer than other sports, spanning fall, winter and spring, and Sullivan said the team practices twelve hours a week on average.
“We cheer every men’s and women’s basketball game, and then others that are selected, so men’s volleyball games here and there, women’s volleyball, soccer, whatever games the department sees we would be beneficial to,” Sullivan said.
Cheerleading isn’t an NCAA-sponsored sport, which means collegiate cheer programs don’t receive operating and scholarship funds distributed to other athletic programs at Division I schools. This leaves cheer teams reliant on colleges and universities to finance their programs.
Cheerleading is also not officially recognized as a sport by U.S. federal Title IX guidelines. Title IX is a section of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits gender-based discrimination in sports.
Buhay-Castro said she thinks shortcomings in funding for collegiate cheer could stem from gender disparities in athletics.
“It is bigger than just Loyola, it is a thing within the cheer and dance industry, where us as women we don’t get necessarily as much recognition in comparison,” she said. “We want to be changing it into the future, and making sure that there is no gap between male and female sports.”
Associate Athletic Director Bill Berhns didn’t respond to questions regarding the funding of spirit programs at Loyola.
Loyola competed in Open All Girl Game Day Finals, which is specifically geared towards more traditional cheerleading similar to what the cheer program does on the sidelines of Gentile Arena, Buhay-Castro said.
Loyola’s division consisted of other all-girl teams from Division I schools as well as junior colleges. The Ramblers only brought 15 competitors to nationals, despite the competition allowing a maximum of 30 participants per team.
“We were able to make a name for ourselves and compete against teams that were twice our size,” Buhay-Castro said.
The team consisted of just six veteran members with prior experience in collegiate cheer, she said. Because stands were empty due to COVID-19 restrictions during the 2020-2021 school year, Loyola Athletics suspended its spirit programs, The Phoenix reported.
Students, including sophomore Katie Steponaitus, said they felt there should be more support provided to the cheer team and their competitive aspirations.
“I know a lot of people don’t consider cheerleading a sport,” Steponaitus, a criminal justice major, said. “But, when you compete and when you’re supporting other sports you should get the same back no matter what anyone thinks about the sport.
Callie Gryzbowski, a senior majoring in film and digital media, added that she felt the team is overlooked and their contribution to the gameday atmosphere at sporting events should not go unnoticed.
“I think they should get more recognition — I think they do bring an overall hyped-up morale to the game atmosphere,” she said. “I think they have a huge part in rallying the crowd and I think they deserve a lot of recognition for that.”
Buhay-Castro said the program plans to keep traveling to and competing at events in the future and she hopes competition will bring more attention and notoriety to the team.
“Instead of just staying here at Gentile, it gave us an extra way to get our name out there and say, ‘Hey, we are representing the university in this way, and we want to compete,’” she said.
Sullivan said the team’s success and the exposure from competing will help the program continue to improve by getting more young athletes interested in being recruited to Loyola and expanding the talent pool that the cheer team is able to pick from at try-out
Buhay-Castro said this year has been foundational in the tradition of Loyola cheer as the team looks toward the future.
“Our motto for this season — we say brick by brick and we all put our hands in one at a time,” Buhay-Castro said. “It’s just a way for us to represent the fulfillment for alumni aspirations like those who came before us. As well as continuing to build… foundational building blocks for future successors.”
The team’s 2022 UCA National Championship performance is available for viewing on VarsityTV.