Not just ‘the spirit’: Cheer, dance teams compete nationally again, want better recognition


Courtesy of: Addison Sharrow

The Kent State cheer (pictured above) and dance teams competed in the national competition April 6-8 in Daytona, Florida.

Nico Crespo, Reporter

Kent State’s dance and cheer team traveled to Daytona, Florida, to compete at nationals, a competition junior cheer team member Alexis O’Connor said is like the March Madness of the cheerleading world.

The cheer team finished fifth out of 27 teams during the competition which lasted from April 6 to April 8. The dance team placed in the top 20 places in both its jazz and hip-hop routines. Both teams competed in Division I A.

Despite making a national competition appearance, senior cheer team member Baylee DiCioccio said the dance and cheer teams did not receive the same level of support as the athletic teams they spend their season cheering for at Kent State.

“We support as many sports as possible,” DiCioccio said. “We make it to the volleyball games and the gymnastics meets. Anything and anyone that wants us to do in athletics, to go support, we do it no questions asked, and we just want the same respect as everybody else.

“It’s like they consider us students that cheer and not student athletes. It’s kind of a slap in the face because we put in a lot of work, and we put everyone first. It just hurts to not see a thank you.”

In response to their frustrations, Kent State’s Athletic Department responded with, “The athletic department recognizes and appreciates the pivotal and front facing role our cheer and dance programs play in our department and the University as a whole.”

“The frustrations are real, from both sides,” the statement read. “Historically the cheer and dance teams were not truly in athletics or in student affairs, and due to that didn’t have the financial support necessary to excel. Once that was made evident, the new partnership with Student Affairs will allow us to support this program at a more elite level. This improved level of investment goes beyond any of our MAC [Mid-American Conference] counterparts.

“We are confident it will elevate the programs and provide competitive opportunities. We are at the start of a dynamic and exciting shift in the way we prioritize spirit and traditions at KSU and know there will be much to celebrate!”

A lack of appreciation may come from a lack of understanding what the cheer and dance teams do outside of their M.A.C. Center appearances, cheer team member Alexis O’Connor said.

“I think what people think of us is just the sideline routines, or that we only do game days for football and basketball — people just don’t know what we do,” she said. “They don’t know the whole other side of it like competitions or that we stunt and tumble at very high dangerous levels. It is sad to not be recognized or appreciated in a way because as a team we do so much for the school, and it’s like, ‘Oh we’re the cheer and dance team, we’re just the spirit.’”

Kent State jazz team poses for a photo in Daytona at the national competition. (Courtesy of Hannah Justice)

O’Connor said she hopes the cheer and dance teams’ performances in Daytona showed the community what they can really do.

Junior cheer captain Addison Sharrow said the cheer and dances teams put in hours of work to be able to perform their routines at basketball games, football games and numerous other sporting events.

“Cheer and dance only have one shot, one time to do everything to do perfect but if we don’t do it perfectly in that one shot it will reflect in the scores,” she said. “I think that the fact that we have to do it perfectly in the one shot, really says a lot about the sport in general.”

Hannah Justice, a senior dance team member, said the team doesn’t receive as many resources or as much funding as other university-sponsored sports.

“Being able to do what we love and compete with what little resources we have is a huge deal,” Justice said. “To do what we did at a national level without the resources or funding means a lot to us because we put the work in for it.”

Keeping the focus: ‘We do this for each other’

Sharrow said one of the main goals of her team is to do everything for each other — regardless of who’s watching.

“I just try to remind everybody that we may not get the recognition we feel that we deserve, but if we do this for each other and are just in it for each other and helping each other, then that’s all that really matters,” she said.

Justice said her time with the team at nationals has given her one of the best opportunities she has ever experienced.

Kent State hip-hop team poses for a photo at the national competition in Daytona. (Courtesy of Hannah Justice)

“We’ve gotten to travel a lot with the football team and the basketball team when they were doing well, but dance is more of my sport since I’ve been doing it since high school,” Justice said. “Going to [nationals] and competing against top colleges, that was just a really cool experience.”

DiCioccio said she sees her cheer team as a family — on and off the floor.

“Our team is very close, it’s like a family,” she said. “That’s what we really care about because when you aren’t a family your routine will not be good. You need to have good chemistry to work together so we really strive for teamwork and bonding as well as balancing doing well at these big events like nationals.”

Nico Crespo is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]