If you’ve never been to an NYU basketball game, you may be surprised to know that our school does indeed have a cheerleading team. Decked out in purple and white uniforms, the cheerleaders smile wide and kick high, bringing passion and joy to every game, no matter how many — or few — people fill the stands.
For some, like Steinhardt junior and cheer team captain Jason Le, exposure to cheerleading began in high school before blossoming into an undeniable love for the sport.
“I started cheering in my freshman year of high school, and from then on I’ve always loved it,” Le said. “When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know NYU had a cheer team until I saw them at club fest.”
Being a part of NYU’s cheerleading team is no light work. Team members practice three days a week year-round, spending days and nights trying to perfect the routine they perform at men’s and women’s basketball home games, rugby games, wrestling matches and select volleyball matches. It can be dangerous, involving moves such as tumbling, stunting, flipping, cartwheeling and more.
“Cheerleading is a big mental game because all of the things we do are very dangerous and there’s a lot of mental blocks for everyone, which makes a lot of people scared,” Le said. “Cheerleading is literally 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.”
Assistant Coach Autumn Kovach is proud of the supportive environment the team of nearly 20 cheerleaders has cultivated during her time at NYU.
“Our squad is really, really close,” Kovach said. “We have such great energy this year. Everyone is rooting for each other; they want to see everyone succeed.”
CAS senior Teniesea Russell began her foray into cheerleading here at NYU, where she found the community and support she craved.
“One of my favorite things about being on the NYU cheer team is how diverse it is,” she said. “I like to be surrounded by people who look like me and don’t. It feels like a more accepting atmosphere. The majority of people on the team are really sweet, easy to talk to and easy to work with.”
In addition to performing at games, the cheer team also competes at the National Cheerleaders Association College Nationals in Florida, which will take place April 3 to 7 this year. Performing in front of large crowds of people at a national competition can be very daunting, but the NYU cheerleading coaches help guide the team through it all, Le said.
“They’re our biggest motivators who lead us through what we need to do,” he said. “It gets pretty chaotic and stressful at times, but they’re there to help us look at the goal, look at what we need to do to get us where we need to be.”
The cheerleading team at NYU has also performed on MTV’s Total Request Live, highlighting the unique opportunities New York City provides.
Some students consider NYU to not be a sports-centric school, which can make it hard to increase the visibility of the cheerleading team. The problem is worsened by the fact that it is also considered a club sport, rather than a varsity one here.
“I wear a lot of NYU Cheer apparel and for the majority of the time, everyone who sees it always says, ‘Wow! I did not know NYU had a cheer team! Who do you cheer for?’” Russell said.
Kovach appreciates the fact that despite the lack of a football team, NYU allows the cheerleading team to perform at various sporting events throughout the academic year.
“What I do like at NYU [is that], because we don’t have a football team, we’ve been able to cheer for volleyball games, rugby and wrestling matches,” Kovach said. “We have plenty of sports at NYU — we’ve actually had to deny cheering at some events just because there’s not enough time in a week.”
In addition to getting students involved in university life and keeping them fit and healthy, cheerleading teaches many important life skills.
“You learn really good discipline, how to trust other people, how to have a smile on your face at any given time,” Kovach said. “As a cheerleader, you’re the face of something. And in terms of real life, it’s important to be able to stay composed in any given situation. You kind of learn how to have composure about you.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 19, print edition. Email Bela Kirpalani at [email protected]