Spirit Groups Work Hard to Make Campus Festive, Fun at Events
Oct. 25, 2013
Members of the UT Dallas cheerleaders performed a stunt during a recent spirit rally. The squad also cheers at all home basketball and volleyball games.
Trying to generate campus spirit in the academically-driven environment at UT Dallas can sometimes be a challenge, but that doesn’t stop a dedicated crew of enthusiastic students from trying to spark excitement whenever and wherever they can.
From the mascot Temoc to Pep Band, students who participate in the University’s Spirit Programs aim to rev up school spirit and foster loyalty.
Never mind that UT Dallas is a serious-minded institution with a significant commuter population, an eclectic student body, and a prowess on the chessboard rather than the gridiron.
“It’s an interesting challenge, for sure. It’s never easy, but it’s always a fun challenge,” said Briana Lemos, director of student development. “You have to figure out what excites students. You really want people to embrace the spirit, and show you’re proud to be a Comet.”
The Spirit Programs support UT Dallas athletic teams and amplify crowd enthusiasm at special events on campus such as Homecoming and Welcome Week.
Homecoming 2013 is set for Nov. 13-16. For more information, visit the Homecoming website.
And they’re making a difference on campus, Lemos said.
If you’ve attended recent home games, you know that the University’s up-and-coming athletic teams are drawing increasingly larger and more exuberant crowds each year.
Much of the credit goes to students who participate in the UT Dallas Cheerleaders, Power Dancers, Crush Crew and Pep Band, who faithfully charge up the crowd.
For cheerleader Jenny Hays, all-campus events such as the Homecoming Spirit Rally are “an adrenaline rush.”
“We love showing off what we’ve been working so hard on and getting the school pumped for the game,” said Hays, a junior double major in child learning and development/psychology.
Spirit Programs can even influence a potential student’s decision to attend the University, said Bill Petitt, associate athletic director.
“When they see cheerleaders, the Power Dancers, the Pep Band and a good basketball team, it leaves them with a positive attitude about UT Dallas,” Petitt said. “The Spirit Programs really represent the University well and add a lot to the game atmosphere. They knock down a lot of walls.”
Cheerleaders participated in the Homecoming Parade last fall.
The UT Dallas Cheerleaders attend all home men’s and women’s basketball games and volleyball games. Besides chanting cheers, the squad takes the court during timeouts and at halftime, performing athletic tumbling, handsprings, and stunt routines, such as pyramids and basket tosses.
New cheerleading coach Jason Dollar has more than 20 years’ experience competing, coaching and choreographing, and trains competitive teams and a few high school teams at his cheerleading facility in Carrollton.
“The biggest thing is I expect more from them, getting them to perform like a collegiate team, doing harder skills that they’re capable of doing,” Dollar said. At the Homecoming Spirit Rally, cheerleaders will show off their practice by doing more pyramid layers, with “lots of flipping,” he said.
He wants the team to do well at annual competitions. UT Dallas Cheerleaders have competed six times at the National Cheerleaders Association College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla., placing as high as second in 2010.
Cheerleader Hays said participating in the national competition was a draw for her, and attending one practice session was all it took to make her try out for the squad. She hadn’t been a cheerleader since her sophomore year in high school.
“The biggest selling point on joining the team was that we compete in NCA College Nationals, one of the most prestigious events in the world of cheerleading. Our whole team is really excited, and I see a lot of potential and talent in the group this year,” Hays said.
The Power Dancers perform hip-hop, jazz and a variety of other dance styles at campus events throughout the school year.
Power Dancers, the official dance team of UT Dallas, perform for varsity basketball games and special events such as Homecoming and Welcome Week. Twice-a-week practices are mandatory, and attendance at all home basketball games is required.
UT Dallas students like the dance team because it brings good music and positive energy, says Power Dancers coach Pam Chivaluksna-Hamby.
“There’s some technique involved, but overall it’s that they are spirited, energetic dancers,” Chivaluksna-Hamby said.
Some Power Dancers alums have gone on to do stints with the Dallas Mavericks Dancers, Dallas Cowboys Rhythm and Blue Dancers, and Texas Legends Dancers, she said.
They learn their paces at clinics and camps. The Power Dancers perform choreographed routines with pompoms, as well as hip-hop and jazz.
Power Dancers captain Stefani VanTyne, a speech-language pathology senior, was on the drill team at Plano East Senior High. She says the crowd at UT Dallas home games seems to enjoy the team’s energy, as evidenced by loud cheering during their halftime dance performances.
“Hip-hop is the most fun. It’s really high energy and fast-paced,” Van Tyne said.
She said she has bonded with other dancers on the team.
“It’s also about the friends. It’s a little sorority in itself,” Van Tyne said.
Diamond Dolls Kristen Genter and Christina Marcum came to the baseball season opener last winter.
The UT Dallas Crush Crew is a dedicated set of fans that turns out to support Comet athletic teams. No training or experience is required – just enthusiasm.
The crew began as a group of students “who wanted to be the crazy fans in the stands,” Lemos said. Fans would paint their faces in green and orange, shout and ring loud bells whenever a player scored.
Today, Crush Crew members provide a more organized support system for each player in addition to maintaining a cheering section for their team. They decorate locker rooms and provide snack baskets for players on game day.
The Crush Crew includes the Diamond Dolls, who adopt players on the University’s varsity baseball team, and the Soccer Sweethearts, who support the men’s varsity soccer team.
Business administration senior Emily Warren has been a Diamond Doll for two years. Her boyfriend is on the baseball team.
“I wanted to make sure all of the guys were taken care of,” Warren said. “Many students are not aware of the sports teams our school has, and we bring awareness about the baseball games.”
Soccer Sweetheart Rachel Shallow, a junior in business administration, said she enjoys making sure the players are “getting spoiled” before their games.
“We’re supposed to make little goody bags for them for home games, but the girls are making amazing baskets for the boys – including baked goods and Gatorade,” Shallow said. “Some of us even travel, when possible, to away games.”
The UT Dallas Pep Band performed at the National Night Out block party Oct. 1 at the North Residence Hall courtyard.
Live music from the UT Dallas Pep Band always seems to notch up the energy of campus events. The brass, woodwinds and percussion band jazzes up the crowds at athletic events, Scholars Day, National Night Out, the Homecoming Parade and pep rallies.
When administrators approached Dr. Winston Stone, a clinical professor of music and the arts, to be the director five years ago, the band had eight members – including himself, playing clarinet.
Today, the Pep Band boasts 45 members, including students, faculty, staff and even a few spouses and alumni. Students receive one academic credit for their participation.
Stone is giving up the helm of the band this year to his assistant, Lori Gerard, an arts and humanities lecturer.
Over the years, Stone said the Pep Band has “changed the complexion of events on campus.”
“Students show up a half hour before a game for this. It puts everyone in a good mood for the rest of the day,” he said.
Stone said he “invented” the Chess Team pep rally to give the nationally renowned UT Dallas team a proper sendoff for their tournament play.
The band plays everything from pop to jazz to classical. Crowds might hear “Night on Bald Mountain” or “Crazy Train” or even Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.”
“If the basketball team wins, people gather after the game for the fight song, ‘Tiger Rag,’” Stone said. “You get 11 trombone players doing that, and it’s very exciting. Everybody gets up and dances.”