WSU cheer committed to honing its craft

Spirit squads at every home football, volleyball, basketball game, practice three days a week


JAKE MONROE | Daily Evergreen File

A WSU cheerleader is thrown into the air during a Sept. 23 football game against Nevada at Martin Stadium.

RYAN BLAKE, Evergreen reporter

Spirit coordinator and cheer Head Coach Chris Opheim tells his athletes it takes 10,000 repetitions to master something.

Both the cheer and dance squads hold two-hour practices three days a week, immediately followed by an hour of strength and conditioning. Opheim said the tough schedule is crucial for succeeding in a sport with little margin for error. Every mistake is accentuated when routines often involve tossing someone 20 feet into the air, he said.

“When we go out there and we make it look easy, that’s the goal,” Opheim said. “Anybody should look at us and be like ‘I could do that,’ but they don’t realize the amount of reps we do behind the scenes.”

Both spirit squads are present at every home football, volleyball and basketball game. They attend two to three sporting events each week in the fall. Opheim, now in his fifth season as the head cheer coach, said every event is of equal importance.

There are no misconceptions from members of his team about the commitment level required when they sign up, Opheim said. Many of them have been cheering since they were very young and are familiar with the hectic lifestyle.

Finding athletes willing and able to meet the demands of being on the team can be complicated, Opheim said. Recruiting for dance and cheer does not work the same as other sports at WSU.

They hold clinics and attend state championship showcases in hopes of garnering interest in their program, but all prospective individuals must still tryout for the team upon arriving at the school.

He said determining who makes the cut is a challenge when nearly 60 people try out for each team, and talent is a big portion of what he looks for.

Both squads compete nationally at the Universal Cheerleaders Association and Universal Dance Association College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships, a showcase broadcast nationally on ESPN.

Opheim also considers personality when determining teams, he said. Members of the spirit squads act as role models and ambassadors to the university. They must be able to interact with fans of all ages, making the interview portion of the tryout is another crucial element as to who makes the team, he said.

The spirit squads act as a bridge between the team on the field and the fans in the stand, Opheim said.

“I don’t say we win games, but it definitely helps the atmosphere of games,” Opheim said. “We are the people who help maintain home-field advantage, along with the fans.”

Maintaining that atmosphere is a group effort, said Kaila Evenoff, the head dance coach at WSU.

“I think it’s great that we have a strong spirit squad in general,” Evenoff said. “It’s not just dance, it’s not just cheer, it’s not just mascot and it’s not just band either. All of us do a good job about communicating with one another and working together to make the atmosphere great.”

Opheim said they receive many compliments from fans for their teams’ contributions, and the support makes WSU an exciting place to cheer. He said the pageantry and tradition of having the cheer and dance teams on the sidelines at home games is what sets college sports apart from professional sports.

“You don’t have ‘Go Cougs’ without Butch leading ‘Go Cougs,’ ” Opheim said.