Cheer team relegated to club sport status

Michael Pearce and Dakota Brecht

Rumors began surfacing on social media late on Thursday, July 12 about the cheer team being removed from Oakland Athletics due to a lack of funding. This move would make competitive cheer into a club sport.

A fan account on Twitter leaked multiple messages that were allegedly from Oakland cheer team members, and junior Hope Sparling took to Instagram to release a lengthy statement about her time as an Oakland cheerleader. Sparling issues a strong statement about athletics and their decision.

“We are not welcome in the O’rena any longer,” Sparling said in her caption. “A place that holds, literally, the blood, sweat, and tears of me and all my teammates. We are totally shut out and in the dark on whose decision this was and why it was made. I no longer respect Oakland Athletics like I used to. I am truly disappointed in their decision making and the way they handle tender situations.”

The cheer team competed under the Oakland Athletics umbrella, which meant they had access to the O’rena, training staffs and funds to afford to attend competitions. Despite being technically removed from the Athletics Department, administration believes they still are a part of it.

“Cheer’s biggest goal was competing at competitions as a member of the Athletics umbrella, and we didn’t have the funds to send them to competition,” Coordinator of athletic communications Max King said. “They will still very much be a part of Athletics. The move was for the girls to compete and we didn’t have the funds. So once they move to the rec center they will be able to fund themselves and do whatever they want.“

Losing funding and the O’rena makes competing more difficult for the cheer team, because their mats are stored there. Without reserved O’rena time, they have to move the mats from the O’rena to the recreation center, where they will practice in the future.

“Not having the O’rena makes practicing for us very hard,” Sparling said. “That’s where all our mats are and they won’t let us cut through to bring them to the rec all the time. So we would have to practice without mats, which is very dangerous for stunting and tumbling.”

As an athletics sponsored team, the cheer team did not have to charge their members to join. Now as a club sport, cheerleaders will have to pay to compete and represent Oakland University.

“Overall I’d say it’s around $800 per girl, per season” junior Chelsea Watterworth said. “Depending on paying for camps, clothing, gymnastics coaches, uniforms, warm ups, etc. Nationals is easily near $1500 per girl.”

The previous year, the administration combined both the cheer team and the dance team, to form Grizzly Motion. Former Athletic Director Jeff Konya really liked the idea of the combined team, which was a unique idea at the time. The idea seemed better on paper than in reality however.

“There was a lot of tension between the dance and cheer sides of Grizzly Motion,” former cheerleader Stephanie Gorham said. “In my opinion every one of us respected the other sport, but it was hard to work together without one team being favored over the other.”

Gorham graduated in 2018, and was a member of Oakland’s cheer team for all four years of her college career. After the teams were combined though, she almost didn’t return for her senior season.

“For me it was extremely upsetting because we were coming out of our best season yet,” she said. “We took sixth at Nationals and worked very hard to make a name for ourselves as a program. Out of my love for the sport and Oakland University I cheered my last year, even though I originally did not want to.”

Last year after the merge of the cheer and dance teams, there was a lot of outrage from both fans and the teams. This year, some of the current and former cheerleaders are expressing even more outrage with the Athletics Department at Oakland University.

“I’ve been a part of Oakland’s cheer program at its best and its worst,” Gorham said. “There are no words to describe how I feel about the situation. I’ve spent hundreds of hours practicing, volunteering and studying. It was all for nothing. Through my four years as an Oakland Cheerleader I’ve firsthand witnessed the empty and broken promises from Oakland Athletics. I’m extremely disappointed in their lack of sensitivity and respect for our sport.”