Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
Every Saturday during football season this team puts their bodies on the line for the entertainment of thousands of fans. The moves they pull off amaze everyone and keeps everyone cheering. Nope. We’re not talking about the Bison Football team. This is the NDSU Cheer Team.
The team is formed of 20 team members, 10 guys and 10 girls
The male cheerleaders do push-ups every time the Bison score. When NDSU scores 50 points that means the male cheerleaders have done around 250 push-ups.
It is the same Cheer Team for football as men’s basketball.
Most of the cheerleaders participate at home and away football games.
There are 10 male cheerleaders for the Bison. These men showoff an amazing array of athleticism because they are responsible for all of the impressive lifts and stunts they pull off week after week. Senior David Farrenkopf told us what it’s like to be a male cheerleader. “It’s not as bad as it sounds or looks… Once you start doing it, it’s so fun. It’s a great atmosphere. All your teammates are very comforting and help you out all the time.”
When it’s your job to fly through the air and be lifted to tops of pyramids, it’s inevitable that falls are going to happen. The job is knowing how to handle it when it happens. When a girl falls, it’s usually controlled and no one is hurt. “There’s a difference between dropping and falling. What the crowd might think is ‘Oh my gosh, she got dropped.’ It’s really controlled. A fall would be that someone hit the ground type of thing and they get hurt. There’s a big difference between falling and dropping,” said senior cheerleader Alexandrya Thiesing.
Life After Cheerleading
Many of the members of the NDSU Cheer Team hope to continue on with their cheerleading career after college. There are possibilities out there, but it can be difficult. Some options that people look into is coaching competitive squads and being a member of the Universal Cheerleaders Association. Cheerleading in the NFL is more like being on a dance team so that’s something many cheerleaders aren’t interested in. “The demand for someone like me who has been doing this since they were very young, your body gives out sooner than somebody who doesn’t… I’d love to coach and bring my expertise to other people. I do want cheerleading to be in my life forever,” said Thiesing.
Running For Your Life
At the beginning of home games the football team comes running out of a giant helmet. This can be a nerve-wracking experience for members of the Cheer Team. If they trip, there will be a team of football players running over them. “I’m the first one out and I’m at a dead sprint. I sometimes worry that because of my really short legs I’m going to trip so I have to step extra high,” said Thiesing.
David Farrenkopf – Senior Male Cheerleader
Alexandrya Thiesing – Senior Cheerleader
Verona Winkler – Coach
As a guy, what’s it like to be on the Cheer Team?
Farrenkopf: “It’s not as bad as it sounds or looks. When you first think about joining or conned into joining, you’re just like, ‘Oh no. I’m going to be a male cheerleader.’ Once you start doing it, it’s so fun. It’s a great atmosphere. All your teammates are very comforting and help you out all the time. The athleticism that you have to have; tossing the girls into the air, is great.”
What got you into it in the first place?
Farrenkopf: “I’m from Williston, ND. I did two years there for my generals and I was introduced to it there. Some girls came up to me and said ‘Hey, you want to come try out?’ I was like ‘Fine.’ I transferred here and I came to tryouts and she (Head Coach Verona Winkler) was like ‘Oh, you’re here for tryouts.’ I started doing it and I love it.”
You have to put a lot of faith in your team. What’s that like? David, have you dropped anyone?
Farrenkopf: “Yes. When you’re a cheerleader, it’s like any sport. There are injuries. There are mistakes that happen. It’s always tough to see it and have it happen to you. Like any sport, I think a lot of us are so tough that if it happens that a girl falls, we get straight back up and do it again. I really commend the girls. They’re really fearless and trusting of us that we’ll catch them and toss them and do all this. When they do fall, they’re so trusting of us that they don’t freak out.”
Thiesing: “There’s also a difference between dropping and falling. What the crowd might think is ‘Oh my gosh, she got dropped.’ It’s really controlled. A fall would be that someone hit the ground type of thing and they get hurt. There’s a big difference between falling and dropping.”
What about the physical demands?
Farrenkopf: “It’s not so much strength. It’s kind of surprising that it’s a lot more legs than arm strength. It’s very difficult just getting everything working together. It’s really a partnership between a flyer and the base because you’re working to use that momentum of her jump and the flick at the end of the guy’s strength. You’re working together to get it as high as possible. It’s really a lot about technique. It’s helpful but if you have great technique, you can surpass so many different obstacles.”
Many members of the Cheer Team want to go on professionally. How does that work?
Thiesing: “It kind of depends what you look for. The demand for someone like me who has been doing this since they were very young, your body gives out sooner than somebody who doesn’t. I’m going to stop when my body tells me to stop. I’d love to coach and bring my expertise to other people. I do want cheerleading to be in my life forever…”
Where do you go professional?
Farrenkopf: “I’m graduating this year in English education and I’m going to be a teacher in either middle school or high school. There are a few different routes. You can go into the coaching route. I might coach and teach at the same time. You can become a UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association) member and you can go to camps and coach there. There are also competitive squads you can join. Those are more down South. You can join those squads and go to competitions. That’s what I hope to do.”
Do you ever do competitions?
Winkler: “Our squad does not compete. Our sole purpose it to support NDSU Athletics.”
Farrenkopf: “We want that because our football and basketball team and Athletics are great and we love to cheer for them.”
Thiesing: “The atmosphere of a competition team is so much different. It’s more work, more everything else. What we do, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s so much fun so you’re working hard and you’re enjoying yourself. The atmosphere is amazing…”
You haven’t experienced much of this in the last couple years, but how do you stay motivated when your team is losing?
Winkler: “I’ll tell you one thing, when the football and basketball teams are winning, it’s impossible not to be motivated. How could you not? It’s a joy.”
Thiesing: “It is the atmosphere. It is the fans. There may only be ten fans in the FargoDome that are actually watching us, but the fact that they are excited for what we are excited for and we’re on the same page and team, it makes us more excited to show them how good we are… it’s nice to be so involved with our fans.”
Farrenkopf: “They motivate us as we motivate them. When we throw a stunt up and we see their surprise that she’s going so high and we catch her, it’s amazing seeing their reaction. They get pumped up and we get pumped up and then the football team scores a touchdown.”
When the football team is running out of the helmet before the game, how fast do you have to run because I always think they’re going to run you over?
Thiesing: “I’m the first one out and I’m at a dead sprint. I sometimes worry that because of my really short legs I’m going to trip so I have to step extra high…”
As one of the guys who has to do push-ups every time the football team scores, what’s it like when they score 50 points?
Farrenkopf: “When they’re scoring up to 50 plus that’s when you start getting into upper 200 push-ups. It’s a drain on you because you have those push-ups, you have tossing the girls, you have cheering, you have jumping up and down, running back and forth so you’re already tired. They score another touchdown so you’re cheering and then you’re like ‘Oh, now I have to do push-ups.’ There’s a little balance between ‘I love it when they score,’ and ‘Ugh.’ When they score and you’re doing those push-ups, the way that I push through, and a lot of us push through, is that this push-up shows that our team is great and our team is on top.”