|Arizona Cheerleading: A Tradition of Excellence|
The basketball program guided by head coach Lute Olsen is one synonymous with excellence. In a similar manner, the Cheerleading program at the Pacific Ten Conference school also accentuates the striving for and maintaining a high level of performance.
Naomi Damsky is helping Arizona keep that tradition alive in Cheerleading. A '99 grad who cheered her four years at Arizona, Damsky has returned to her alma mater as an assistant coach on a part time basis. She accompanied the squad to New York for the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament as head coach Lawrence Murray remained in Tucson. As she enthusiastically spoke about the program it was evident that Arizona's cheerleaders are expected to be perform both on and off the floor.
"We practice five days a week as a squad for two hours" Damsky said. "They (the cheerleaders) are all expected to weight lift three times a week on their own and engage in a cardiovascular activity such as running twice a week also."
The Arizona cheer program has two main squads, a red and blue, which represent the school's colors. The red will cheer for men's basketball and football while the blue concentrates on Women's basketball and volleyball. "Occasionally there will be an overlap in the squads duties," Damsky added.
While the cheer preparation and training and game duties can be demanding, those in the program are rather well rounded and have, or make, time for outside interests. "Seventy five percent of our kids (participating) hold part time jobs," Damsky noted. "They all must maintain a 2.0 or better cumulative average and a number of them are also in fraternities or sororities".
Just two years removed from the sidelines or center court during a time out, Dansky is now on the other end of the scene. Rather than participate as a squad member, she is now a supervisor or director, which affords a different perspective. "You notice the little things more (in coaching)," she said. "You pay attention more to what happens in down time and you get a better read on the crowd's reaction to cheers. You hear things from a whole different perspective. It's (coaching) all very exciting."
For Alli Hirohaya, a freshman co-captain, excitement is also a key word. "The Tucson fans are absolutely crazy about the U of A," she said. "The enthusiasm around the community especially with basketball just makes it an exciting atmosphere."
Brianna Rhue, a sophomore co-captain, whole heartily agrees with her fellow captain. But for Rhue, the experience is also the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. And goes with a bit of advice to those working through the junior high and high school ranks. "Stick with it and work hard," Rhue said. "All through my school years I dreamed of one day being a college cheerleader. I kept my dream, worked hard and made it. It's been an awesome and exciting experience."
About Ray Floriani: Ray Floriani has been writing college basketball for over twenty years. He is a columnist with Eastern Basketball magazine, Basketball Times and College Hoops Insider. In 1998 he was cited by the Gazelle Group for his work in covering the Coaches vs. Cancer events and was chosen 1999 NIT Media Man of the Year. Contact Ray Floriani.