As Bobcat Day approaches, the UC Merced cheerleaders have a lot to be excited about, among them the opportunity to share their love of the sport by hosting a youth cheer camp on April 4. The squad will spend the day teaching children in kindergarten through eighth grade general cheerleading movements, proper technique and safety.
“A cheer camp like this really stresses sisterhood; big sisters to little sisters,” said Joycelyn Stephens, head cheerleader and founding club president. “I want them to understand how fun it can be.”
The participants will learn a dance routine, a cheer, and a few stunts. All participants will be invited back to campus April 18 to perform for Bobcat Day.
It’s a fitting way to celebrate the team’s first full year as an official club sport. Many on the 12-woman team have been cheerleading since elementary school, but others have no prior experience. In typical cheerleader style, the veterans work with the novices, offering support, encouragement and enthusiasm.
Head coach Lisa Perry is impressed by their progress and dedication.
“They are very much a team,” she said emphatically. “They cheer at every home game, including men’s and women’s volleyball, softball, lacrosse and basketball games, and they perform at campus events.”
And now they have even more on their collective plate. The squad will be travel to Anaheim to compete in the USA National Cheerleading Championships on March 29. The team is thrilled, excited, and extremely nervous.
“The collegiate level is completely different,” Perry said. “They are able to do more challenging stunts and higher pyramids – and incorporate many more acrobatic skills. The competition is intense.”
Intense is nothing new for UC Merced’s cheer team. Members already juggle full class loads, jobs, family obligations, involvement in sororities and other clubs, among other responsibilities with 6 a.m. practices, regular conditioning and physical fitness sessions, and up to five performances a week.
Until recently, the cheerleaders had been using different spaces around campus for their practices. They understood the challenges faced by a small university with more teams needing practice space than actual space to offer.
“We really appreciate the facilities we get to use now,” Stephens said, referring to the Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation Center.
Perry is grateful for their new practice mats, which, unlike regular exercise mats, are designed to support the space and physics of a 12-person cheerleading team. “We have had them for about six weeks and are now able to work on stunts, pyramids and acrobatic skills.”
Also on Perry’s gratitude list are Assistant Coach Feliza Sanchez and Elliot Gilliam, team trainer.
“Without their endless hours of volunteer time and effort, our team would not be where it is today,” she said. “We owe a lot to them.”
In April, the youth cheer camp will be hard work, but fun. The UC Merced mascot will show up for mischief and photos, and participants will get a T-shirt to wear on Bobcat Day.
“This is a sport that helps build confidence and public speaking skills,” Perry said. “It definitely helps develop healthy body image because we go over how to be in shape and make healthy lifestyle choices.”
The camp is open to children from kindergarten through eighth grade. It will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 4. Cost is $25. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Bobcat Day: Coralisa Gary, email@example.com.