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Friday, January 28, 2022

Game day, Wisconsin pride take on new meaning for Spirit Squad

Performance on game days doesn’t solely revolve around the football team. Wisconsin’s Spirit Squad—cheerleading, dance and the university mascot, Bucky—also has to win for the crowd.

“It’s an experience that’s comparable to none,” said senior Tori Rogers, cheerleading co-captain. “Looking up and seeing all of those lights, and seeing all of our fans, like during Jump Around… It’s just something that’s just seriously so amazing.”

The Spirit Squad has had a considerable amount of national coverage recently, including on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” which was stationed on Bascom Hill Oct. 15 for the Ohio State game. Some students stayed on Bascom all night for a chance to be on camera.

Jacob Sokol, co-captain of the cheerleading team, said he could hear the crowd’s roar at 7:30 a.m. as he walked down State Street towards Bascom Hill that day.

“It was really, really cool,” Sokol said. “There were so many students there already at that time. So when we were showing up I was all ... man I was so excited.”

The Wisconsin Spirit Squad got to experience two ESPN “College GameDays” this Fall—the home Ohio State Game and the Louisiana State University game at Lambeau Field.

“I have never done it in my four years,” said UW-Madison senior Ciara Marino, one of three captains of the dance team. “And I got to do it twice this year, so it was really exciting.”

When it comes to game days, both the cheer and dance teams agree that the University of Wisconsin Marching Band is an integral component of their performances—the dance team rehearses every Friday with the band to perfect its timing.

Rogers agrees that the band is important to their performance.

“All of the band chants, we learn them, and then we time when we put our sign up, when we’re going to bring it down, everything,” Rogers said.

According to Sokol, being on the Spirit Squad means that when their uniforms go on, they are representing the university and performing—an aspect that puts the pressure of perfection on its members.

“You have to be on the whole time,” Sokol said. “If you do something dumb, or you do something that looks weird, it's not ‘oh Jacob Sokol did this,’ it's ‘oh, The Wisconsin Cheerleader did this.’”

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According to Marino, dance uses the code word ‘corn’ to alert teammates when the camera is on them because they can say it while smiling.

However, Sokol admits men on the team experience this pressure differently than women; focus on the women takes pressure off the men because the ‘guy cheerleader’ has a different connotation than the ‘girl cheerleader.’

“[The guys] can do things, we can mess up, to an extent,” Sokol said. “The girls ... it's to a whole other level, and I don't even understand that, I just know it's there.”

Wisconsin’s student section is consistently ranked among the most spirited in the nation. However, there are occasional repercussions with that reputation, according to Sokol.

One of those incidents was last fall, when UW-Madison received news coverage after supporters in the Wisconsin student section threw snowballs at the cheer team. The cheerleaders were forced to leave the field and the incident was covered in Sports Illustrated as one of the “2015 Signs of the Apocalypse.”

Despite the pressure the members face, the Spirit Squad is proud of its supporters and works hard for them.

“Our fans are great because they’re basically reckless,” Sokol said. “They’ll jump in with whatever chants that we’re doing. They’ll start the ‘Let’s Go Red,’ they’ll start ‘Let’s Go Badgers,’ they’ll sing along with everything. They’re totally spontaneous, and that’s what makes them awesome.”

And, according to Sokol, even when the game ends in a loss, the fight songs, chicken dance and ‘Hey Baby’ chants get fans’ spirits back up.

Bucky’s appearance is also a staple of the Spirit Squad’s performance on game days, ranking high in fan appeal and enthusiasm.

According to UWBadgers.com, “from sporting events to community service requests to the occasional wedding, Bucky is a popular and enduring fixture among Wisconsin fans.”

In regard to this weekend’s upcoming football game, Rogers stated Nebraska’s team doesn’t compare to Wisconsin’s Spirit Squad.

“Super cool stadium, super fun game… no traditions. Like their student section was pretty quiet. They didn’t really do anything,”Rogers said, recalling the game at Nebraska last year.

Members agree that being on Wisconsin’s Spirit Squad is a life-changing experience.

“I do have special opportunities to be front row,” Marino said. “And I wouldn't trade the last four years. I couldn't imagine myself going anywhere else."

The opportunities the Spirit Squad receives, including time with Chancellor Blank or Barry Alvarez, set their Wisconsin experience apart from that of the average student.

“If you don’t make [the team], you don’t make it,” Rogers said of upcoming tryouts for the different teams in the Squad. “It’s not going to change your life, but making the team is something that will.”

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