If you think it's hard being a cheerleader on a football field, a spring floor or a basketball court, try doing it on a slick surface of ice with thin metal blades on the bottom of your feet. That's what the University of Minnesota hockey cheerleaders do at every home game. And if you're considering saying something like, "they aren't 'real' cheerleaders," I'd highly recommend you don't go there — These talented young women are cheerleaders in every sense of the word and they are much more.
The History of Hockey Cheerleaders at the University of Minnesota
Although it's unclear when exactly the sport of hockey got their first cheerleaders at the University of Minnesota, it is known that they have been there for quite a while. There were a few years when the squad took a break, but then about 8-10 years ago they came back and are now nothing short of sensational.
In the past, cheerleading skills were of the utmost importance when selecting the university's hockey cheerleading squad. Over the last three years though, the focus and emphasis has moved towards valuing figure skating abilities as well. Now it's almost impossible to make the team without some figure skating experience.
Making the Hockey Cheerleading Squad
- Tryouts are held annually in late April or early May.
- Tryouts consist of 2-3 clinics and a final performance.
- Participants are taught two cheers, the school "Rouser," two fight songs and a short dance - all of which are performed on the ice.
- Coaches test candidates' ability to remember material, their motion sharpness and the grace of their skating. They are also tested on their individual technical skills in skating and cheerleading.
- The minimum skating requirements usually consist of:
- A flip/loop combination
- An upright spin
- A heel stretch
- Backward power 3 turns
- A right back outside Shoot the Duck
- A Tango stop
- An axel jump and layback spins are highly sought after skills.
- Currently the squad has two coaches. Alissa King, the head coach and Amy Sucha, the skating coach.
- On average, the squad consists of 12 girls, but the number can change from year to year. It is not a co-ed squad.
Performance and Responsibilities of the Hockey Cheerleading Team
- Due to restrictions, the hockey cheerleaders do not stunt, but they have stunted in the past. They are presently working with the AACCA on guidelines and hope to resume stunting in the future.
- The hockey cheerleaders maintain a very close connection with the fans. They cheer from within the crowd and in the stands while the game is in play. Three rows of four girls are positioned and seated in adjoining aisles. When the whistle blows, they jump up, turn around to face the crowd and cheer.
- Because they don't compete, the hockey cheerleaders train for the sole purpose of supporting the team and exciting the crowd. Their focus is always on how to best reach their audience.
- Before the game and in between periods the cheerleaders exchange their shoes for skates and take to the ice. On the ice they do a mixture of cheerleading and synchronized and individual skating skills - this is where they are most impressive and unique.
- The cheerleaders' season coincides with hockey season. They start practice in mid-August, games start in October and they cheer through playoffs.
- Although they do not have a wide variety of cheers, they do motivate and excite the crowd by shouting chants like, "Let's Go, Gophers" and "Here We Go, Minnesota."
- The hockey cheerleaders perform short dances in the stands and/or small skating routines on the ice.
- The response from the fans to the cheerleaders is sometimes overwhelming. They are usually asked for autographs and photos. Most young children idolize and admire the University of Minnesota hockey cheerleaders.
- Other schools are surprised when the cheerleading squad takes to the ice. Most opponent teams do not have cheerleaders and if they do, none perform to the extent that the University of Minnesota squad does.
Advice on Starting a College Hockey Cheerleading Squad
The University of Minnesota's hockey cheerleading squad is part of the spirit squad and they receive funding from the university. Ice time can be very expensive, so if you school already has an established spirit section, you might want to start there. Keep in mind this is a relatively new avenue for cheerleading. Begin small and grow your program as interest and response grows. Don't be afraid to reach out to other programs like the University of Minnesota's. Most coaches and squad members are willing to help with what worked for them and share their mistakes, successes and experience.
As you can tell, hockey cheerleading is a lot like cheering for any other sport, but it's also a lot more. It's almost like taking cheerleading to another level and instead of combining dance, cheerleading and gymnastics; you are combining dance, cheerleading and figure skating. Thanks to the University of Minnesota hockey cheerleaders; they are setting a great example and laying the groundwork for hopefully many more squads to follow in their footsteps. I can see an exciting future in this kind of cheerleading, can you?
If you're interested in learning more about the University of Minnesota hockey cheerleaders or receiving a tryout packet, you can contact Alissa King at 612-625-2628 or by email.
This article was written with the help and input of Rachel Faynik. Rachel is a student at the University of Minnesota and a member of the hockey cheerleading squad. All photography is credited to Thea Hefty ©2007 and used with permission.