Cheer team funds own organization

By Morgan Fink

DeKALB — NIU Competitive Cheerleading was removed from Athletics Department funding in May, but that didn’t stop team members from engaging with the sport, something many of them have practiced most of their lives.

The organization, which participates in events such as local and national cheerleading competitions and NIU sporting events, was approved Oct. 8 by the Student Association Senate as an SA-recognized student organization. The SA helps fund their organizations when a group requests financial assistance with things such as transportation and lodging fees. Maysea Miller, NIU Competitive Cheerleading president, said the team would be financially stable and wouldn’t ask for money unless it was an emergency.

“It was honestly one of the best feelings to know that we had all of that support from people at our school and even people who know who we are through athletics, and knowing they wanted to support us,” said Reese Wojtas, NIU Competitive Cheerleading public relations manager. “It was really heartwarming.”

The organization was removed from the Athletics Department after being placed in the review category in a Program Prioritization report released in May 2016. When team members realized they weren’t going to be recognized by the university as an athletic team, they knew they had to figure out their own way to fundraise.

“We weren’t going to get funding for a coach or a grad assistant, which is what we had last year,” Wojtas said. “Once we found that out, we knew what we were going to do. We just needed to figure out the right steps to get there to become a club. The process just took a little longer than expected.”

Assistant coach Jennifer Bates volunteers her time to the team because of the lack of funding.

“I didn’t want to see them left without any sort of guides,” Bates said. “It’s hard in cheerleading not to have someone sit and watch the team, but these kids have worked really hard to get back to Daytona this year, and I wanted to make sure their hard work allowed them to get there.”

Fundraising was vital for the cheerleading team. The money received through university funding from previous years went toward things like team apparel and tuition money for the graduate assistant coach, Wojtas said. Items such as new signs, warmup jackets and T-shirts are paid out-of-pocket by the members of the team.

“We really push fundraising,” Wojtas said. “It’s the best way for us to not be breaking each individual member’s bank and so that being on the team becomes affordable.”

The team’s current total raised is up to $5,500, but that number fluctuates based on payments the team makes toward national competitions and apparel wear and how much money they raise at fundraising events, Wojtas said.

The team raises funds with initiatives including 50/50 raffles at football games in which individuals purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win 50 percent of the money taken in by the ticket sales, hosting local cheerleading competitions, working at All-Star Competitions and selling items such as coffee mugs.

The money they raise goes toward fixing equipment, traveling to other universities for away games and travel fees for national competitions.

Now that the team is recognized as a club by the SA, they want to extend support to other clubs beyond athletic teams, Wojtas said. They are figuring out other club events happening on campus in order to attend their events on campus.

“We want to give our support to any club that’s out there,” Wojtas said. “From one club to another, we want them to feel the support.”

Wojtas said she wants the school to look at cheerleading differently than they have in past years.

“I don’t mean this in a negative way; I just felt maybe we didn’t get the same support as we have before,” Wojtas said. “It’s a great feeling to be represented by the university and to see that people want to recognize us. It’s nice to know our work in the community doesn’t go unnoticed. I want people to know we work hard too and love this school just as much as the next person does.”

“Whether NIU wins or loses, it’s still my favorite place to be,” Wojtas said. “We love doing the same thing together; watching the game and cheering on our friends or boyfriends on the team is one of the greatest things.”