Spring Summer 09

The Core


Portrait of a Painter

Where the Squirrels Are Cuter than Dante

The Secret History of Butternut Playlot

Hallowed Hall


Editor's Note

Seen & Heard

Bizarre Bazaar

Top Ten: Course Adoptions

Suited Up

Strongly Disagree/Strongly Agree

Bring It On


Try Not to Bite Your Partner

Street Smarts

Roscoe Park 8 Takes Over

Go Ask Alumni

Eye on the Quads

Bring It On

The veterans and beginners who make up the U of C cheer team have game.

On a Friday evening in Ratner, the University of Chicago men’s basketball team and their opponent Brandeis go toe-to-toe. The clock is running down, and Brandeis has narrowed Chicago’s lead to 83–77. As time-out after time-out is called, the U of C cheerleaders—clad in maroon and black uniforms and clutching coordinating pom-poms—spring into action. With 52.5 seconds remaining, sophomore Denise Salinas and first-year law student Brittany Gordon perform tumbling runs featuring multiple back handsprings punctuated by backward saltos. At 21.6 seconds, squad members hold up signs emblazoned “CHEER ” and “NOISE.” At 11.9 seconds, the cheerleaders hop off the bench, chanting “defense, defense.” As the clock runs out, their efforts are rewarded: Chicago bests Brandeis, 90–81.

The U of C cheer team performs at home football games, as well as men’s and women’s basketball games. Undergraduate and graduate students, male and female, are welcome; besides law student Gordon, the current squad, all female, includes nine College students. Rosalie Resch, associate chair of the athletics department, says that Chicago’s cheerleading organization has been active on and off since the 1960s, noting that “this latest group is the best that we’ve had in my 34-year tenure at the University. It is nice to have such positive energy at the games.”

The team’s lively repertoire of cheers, dance routines, and stunts is particularly impressive when you consider that most of the squad began cheering just this season and without any related experience such as gymnastics. There is no official coach, but Gordon, Salinas, and senior Jessica Hempel serve as leaders and mentors. A cheerleader since her first year in the College, Hempel is the squad’s tireless organizer. She works with the cheer team adviser, assistant women’s basketball coach Carissa Sain, to reserve practice space, store and retrieve uniforms, and order shoes and other essentials. Gordon, a former University of Florida cheerleader, and Salinas, who cheered for Loyola Academy, contribute ideas for stunts and dance routines while teaching newcomers basic techniques. The latter is a painstaking process, says Gordon: “We had one week of practice before the big Homecoming game, so first I just focused on the little things that are most important: learning cheers, learning motions, that sort of thing. Then we started working on very basic stunts and doing those over and over again.”

Over and over again is exactly how things happen at Tuesday evening practices in Henry Crown Field House. First-years Marilyn Rosales and Emely Vallee, both flyers—athletes who are lifted during stunts—step onto the red mats. Each jumps into the waiting hands of three bases—athletes who support the flyers—and gets hoisted into the air. The flyer stands with her legs straddled, buoyed by a base on either side, each holding a foot, and a third base grasping both ankles from behind. Then the bases straighten their arms, lifting the flyers higher and bringing their legs together. Rosales and Vallee fight to maintain balance as Hempel and Salinas yell—“Stay tight!” “Extension!” “You got it!” In numerous attempts, the flyers remain upright for just a moment before collapsing to the floor. But eventually they each hit it, standing ramrod straight and perfectly balanced, arms extended in a V.

Their hard work has paid off. “I feel like this is the best we’ve ever been,” says Hempel. “We’ve gotten compliments from the athletic director. Parents of the players have been complimenting us. I’m really proud of how far we’ve come.”

The team has even bigger ambitions for next season. They’ll resume workouts this spring and also start recruiting new members. Gordon hopes for more collaboration with the pep band and plans to encourage squad members to attend U of C gymnastics club practices. For her part, Salinas hopes “not only for our team to get bigger and grow as a group of sisters, but I want us to be recognized as athletes as well.”
Katherine E. Muhlenkamp