OSU’s spirit squad: Beaver Cheer comes together to raise energy for gamedays

Georgina Paez, Sports Contributor

For some sports fans, cheer leading is a sport that fans are able to enjoy during brief breaks during any athletic event or during halftime.

But for the cheerleaders themselves, the sport is their heart and soul, their outlet during stressful moments, and the sport that has given them a sense of direction and purpose.

The Oregon State University cheer team practices twice a week, making sure that on game day, they are able to perform well and keep the energy high for Beaver Nation, all while improving their representation in
the media.

Being such a close group, the love of the sport could be felt all around by the coaches, assistants and the student athletes themselves.
But all this positivity starts at the head of the team with Cheerleading Coach James Underwood.

When it came to taking on the position as head coach, especially during the pandemic, Underwood knew that there was something he needed to do in order to bring love back to the world of athletics.

“My motto was, ‘Whatever we do, let’s do it really well,’” Underwood said. “So whether we have a small group or a larger group, we want to make sure that every game—we give it our all… You know, for us, [a sporting event] might be our twelth game, right? But for some little girl or boy in the stands, it’s the only game they’ll go to this year. So for them, it’s like the most important Friday night of their year. So for me, the one thing that I talked about as a coach a lot is [that] I really want to make sure that, every time we go out, we feel like we leave 100% out there.”

Underwood also knew that his student-athletes and the sport of cheerleading itself were underrepresented. From a lack of funding, to a lack of attention, to a lack of a webpage on the OSU Athletics website, Underwood has worked to give the cheerleading team the attention they deserve.

“I think we’re really active on social media,” Underwood said. “That seems to be the biggest bang for our buck, we get a lot of our traffic that tends to drive through there.”
Underwood said when he first became coach, one of the questions he asked the cheerleader captains was what they wanted.

“They said they wanted to feel like they’re being recognized more,” Underwood said. “So I made a commitment to bring in photographers. I consider myself a very B-level photographer. I’ve found people would rather have a B-level photo than nothing. You’ll always see me on the sideline, taking pictures. And I think … what the cheerleaders have really wanted is just the opportunity to be out there and doing what they love. And I always tell them, if we do that, people will notice you, everything else will take care of itself.”

In regards to his leadership goals, Underwood said inclusivity is his main objective for the cheerleading team.

“One of my favorite quotes is from Gandhi, and it’s, ‘There’s room for all of us,’” Underwood said. “And I love it, because I think I’ve always tried to coach that—even though I’m very competitive—I’m always of that mentality that everybody deserves an opportunity to shine. And so one of my messages to the cheerleaders is always, ‘If you work hard and show up on a regular daily basis, I have no choice but as a coach to find an opportunity to showcase you and feature you.’ Sometimes I think what happens is people feel like ‘If someone else’s light is shining, it’s dimming my light.’ I think there’s room for all of us to shine. As a cheer coach, especially because we’re the spirit squad, I’m easily able to feature one cheerleader maybe during the first half, but I can feature somebody else at a different time.”

This type of mindset has rubbed off on multiple Oregon State cheerleaders, including senior and team captain Taylor Johnson, senior Benjamin Hutkoff and junior Andrew Weaver.

“[Cheer] has brought me to figure out all these crazy athletic abilities that I guess I didn’t know I had,” said Weaver. “But it feels like a safe haven. Like if you have a bad day, you may have cheer practice, but you leave it at the door. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

Johnson said one of the biggest impacts cheerleading had on her is the connections she has made.

“I’ve met so many amazing people through cheer,” Johnson said. “Especially alumni, we’re really close with our alumni… And I literally love everybody in Beaver Cheer. And you can always connect with people.”

Hutkoff said there is a lot that goes into the sport of cheerleading that Beaver Nation may not know about.

“Cheerleading itself is a very dangerous sport,” Hutkoff said. “We have a lot of injuries that we have to avoid and when an injury does happen, it’s heartbreaking because everyone is so needed on this team, and when we have someone gone it’s hard to replace them.”

Johnson said she feels cheerleaders often get a bad reputation for thinking they’re better than other people.

“But it’s not that way at all,” Johnson said. “We just want everyone to feel included and want to be here and support our teams and stuff. And no matter how good or bad our teams are doing, we all just love what we do. Even if we are down 20 points, all of us just like to be here.”

Was this article helpful?