Volume 93, Issue 49
Thursday, November 25, 1999
Western cheerleaders full of pep
©Gazette file photo
By Brian Carey
Let's flashback to 1929. It was the year J. W. Little Memorial Stadium started seven decades of service. It was also the year cheerleaders started whipping Mustang fans into a frenzy.
Western's head cheerleading coach, David-Lee Tracey is an expert on these dates. "I researched old Gazette's to find the first reference to cheerleaders at Western."
While other universities have had cheering squads come and go for a variety of reasons, Tracey said only Western and Queen's University have managed to keep their respective teams going year after year, with no lapse in their operations.
Tracey said he joined the squad in 1980 during his fourth year of studies in physical education. As a senior member of the team, he was soon appointed leader. Tracey continued to co-ordinate the team even after graduation and officially became head coach in 1985. Before he arrived, the squad existed without the guidance of a coach, Tracey said.
He explained his reason for joining the team was simple. "I was inspired by a 1979 semifinal game between Queen's and Western. Queen's arrived with their band, cheerleaders and numerous fans. Both sides cheered loud and long that day. I decided then to become a member of the cheerleading contingent."
Western's team has participated in a number of competitions with Tracey as coach. Since the inception of the Canadian National Cheerleading competitions 14 years ago, the Mustang squad has won every year.
United States competition results include first place positions at the United Performance Association competitions in 1995 and 1997 in Minnesota. The Mustang squad moved up to the National Cheerleading Association in Daytona for 1998 and 1999, placing third both years. This is quite an accomplishment, according to Tracey, considering few participants make the top 10, two years in a row.
Craig Boydell, head coach of the men's basketball team thought having cheerleaders at games was good for helping get the crowd involved.
"It's a good idea for the games. Everybody has heard of the cheerleaders. They run a slick professional operation. There is a certain non-traditional element to it, cheers with entertainment. If you have ever been to a Raptors game it is like a three ring circus. Same here with the game, the cheers and the entertainment."
The squad has also made their mark in the media with a part in the movie The Air Up There in 1994, starring Kevin Bacon. Their role as the St. Joseph Bulls' cheerleaders was shot in Hamilton, but the movie was set in Africa. Other credits include the made for TV movie A Cool Dry Place filmed at Toronto in 1997.
As for safety, Tracey said he believed it came from learning. "Everything is a gradual progression in learning a routine. By the time a female cheerleader is in the air, she knows what to do and how to land in the right position," he said.
"It is the male members of the team who usually suffer finger, hand, wrist or shoulder injuries as they catch the flying members of the team. Injuries are kept to a minimum with safety protocol and team members maintaining themselves as strong, well balanced athletes."
The majority of the routines are actually pulled together in the summer and Tracey said he likes the team to develop skills early for any new routines featured at games or competitions. "We attend a week long skills camp in the summer. The camps help the team be unique and fresh for their routines," he said.
Team member Ashley Greven said she felt being on the squad was a lot of fun, despite Tracey's strict work ethic. "Tracey works us hard doing a lot more conditioning than other teams. I was a cheerleader all through high school and I knew Tracey through the all-star teams he coached. I felt it was a natural progression to continue at Western."
Tracey said his most memorable highlight as coach was the first year they competed in the NCA competition. The team was featured as the opening camera shot for CBS' coverage of the event.
Tracey plans to continue coaching for a few more years and the squad is right behind him, hoping to again be on top of the cheerleading pyramid.
This year's cheerleading championships competition will be held at York University tomorrow at 8 p.m.. The doors open at 6:30 p.m..
Copyright © The Gazette 1999