Susquehanna University cheerleading coach Collette Bender wasn’t sure what to expect.
In a normal season, freshmen who want to try out for the team have to do so virtually, but students already on campus try out in person.
“Typically, we have tryouts in the gym,” Bender said. “Myself — and I’ll recruit some seniors — teach the material, and then the team has to learn it.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all Susquehanna cheerleading tryous were held virtually this year.
Bender was pleased with the response as more than 30 women tried out, leading Bender to select the largest team she’s had at Susquehanna — 23.
“I was really surprised at the amount of girls that wanted to try out,” Bender said.
Bender added she was pleased with how the online tryouts went.
“The girls pretty much had to teach themselves what they needed for the tryout,” Bender said. “One advantage to this way is they could learn at their own pace. Because they were teaching themselves, I gave them a week to do it. They could rewind and press play as many times as they needed to.”
There were still some challenges. Susquehanna sophomore Melania Amato, a Shamokin grad, said she would have rather tried out in person.
“It was different; I’ve never done something like that before,” Amato said. “It was very stressful to learn just through video because there wasn’t someone in person who could help you.”
Amato, who is one of six sophomores on the Susquehanna cheer squad for the first time, said there were times she felt as though she was guessing on how to properly do the dance moves.
Danville graduate Brooke Weaver, one of five returning sophomores, also thought it was difficult.
“I’m not made for online learning,” Weaver said. “Watching on the screen, the moves for the dances that I needed to learn took me a lot longer than it would have in person.”
Weaver did add that the process of doing a virtual tryout was easier the second time she had to do it.
“It was a little bit easier,” Weaver said. “I knew how to put it together, but I had to learn new material. It took about as long.”
Cheering at college
Weaver, who cheered all four years at Danville, said she wanted to continue being a cheerleader when she entered college last year.
“I knew it was something I wanted to do, but I was still nervous because I was going into college and didn’t know what to expect,” Weaver said. “I was able to balance it all, and I had a lot of fun.”
Amato, who cheered at Shamokin, said she wanted to cheer as a freshman, but was unable due to having knee surgery.
“I took a couple dance classes to stay active,” Amato said. “I had some friends pushing me to go and at least try.”
Amato — who said her knee was no longer in constant pain, and that it just bothered her sometimes when it rained — said she missed cheerleading last year.
“I missed all of it,” Amato said. “I missed being on the sidelines. I missed practices. I missed the team bond. It’s like having another family.”
Weaver said that bond was one of the best parts of her freshman year cheering for the River Hawks.
“Oh my gosh, I loved it,” Weaver said. “It was so great. It was definitely the people that made it so fun. Our team had such a great bond last year. Coming in as a freshman, I was scared, but everyone made me feel so welcomed.”
That’s something the River Hawks pride themselves on.
“We always say we’re family and we’re there for each other,” Bender said. “We really become the support system for each other.”
Weaver said a lot more goes into being a cheerleader than the finished product people see on the sidelines on Saturday.
“I definitely think it’s harder than it looks,” Weaver said.
The team practices twice per week, eats dinner together and has team bonding on Friday nights and Saturday mornings.
“That is what’s required, so anything else you want to put into it is up to you,” Weaver said. “I like stretching, so I try to do that everyday. Then I try to go to the gym two or three times per week.”
Bender added that being a cheerleader is about more than supporting the football team. She wants her squad to have a positive impact on the campus community as a whole.
“What I want to see is just a sense of pride and community in the school,” Bender said. “That’s really why we cheer. It’s not just to promote the football team. ... We’re doing things out in the community and at the college to spread spirit that they can have pride in being a Susquehanna River Hawk. Hopefully down the line, as alumni they’ll think back and have a sense of community and pride.”