Ethan Rice | Echo
Just a few years ago, Taylor University sporting events were devoid of one particular iconic athletic group: cheerleaders.
However, the rapidly expanding student-led cheer squad has changed the landscape and hopes to be inducted as a varsity sport soon.
Senior Meridian Hollister had cheered for nine years before coming to university and as a sophomore became involved in the birth of the program. Arriving to open gyms following a callout meeting, the group of students, most of them largely inexperienced, trained rigorously leading up to the cheer tryouts. The team officially kicked off in the 2017 - 2018 school year.
Hollister remembers that the process of getting the team off of the ground was difficult without a coach but also very fun and exciting.
News of the program reached senior Allyson McGuire, who transferred from Cincinnati as a junior with a passion for cheerleading.
"I ended up emailing back and forth with the captain, Brielle, at the time and tried out through sending videos to her from Ohio," McGuire said. "This was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my college career."
McGuire served as team captain for the 2018 - 2019 season, a big role with wide-ranging responsibilities that she thanked her fellow seniors, including Hollister, for being there to lean on.
Sophomore Maddy Miller arrived at Taylor as a freshman during the team's first year, having also auditioned by video. On the squad, she enjoys offering support and encouragement to her teammates.
The common thread noted by those involved in the team is the intense bond formed between themselves as they grow as a new, self-coached group. Miller describes the culture as emphasizing the building of leadership and growing a community where everyone can get along and work toward shared goals throughout hardships and struggles.
"Whenever you take 16 girls in college with busy schedules and no coach, you all learn to grow as people who can face conflict in a mature way," Hollister said.
McGuire describes the uplifting experience of moving on this journey even when the only real benefit is simply getting to do what they love every single day.
Before coming to Taylor, she would have said that her passion for cheerleading was at its peak, but after working alongside and meeting goals with those who shared that passion, cheering just for the love of cheering, she believes that it has grown even more.
Two years since the birth of the new program, the high level of interest has started conversations to move toward becoming a varsity sport. Hollister highlights that many of Taylor's fellow schools in the NAIA, including Indiana Wesleyan University, have competing cheerleading teams.
The most important step in that process would be hiring a coach. Hollister hopes that the team would be able to start competing by 2020 or 2021. However, beyond just the opportunity to compete, becoming a varsity sport would allow the team to utilize more facilities, including important health and safety measures.
"If we are made a varsity sport in the future, it will help our squad tremendously," McGuire said. "The recognition on campus would be an amazing and being able to have access to all the facilities that the sports do. It would help grow our program if we were able to offer more benefits to the girls and guys wanting to try out for the squad."