A Season Without Cheerleading

A typical Saturday in fall semester at Monmouth University sees MU Cheerleaders spreading school spirit across campus in anticipation of game day. This fall has been much different with sports cancelled due to COVID-19, ending the cheerleading season before it even began.

Learning that fall season was cancelled came as a huge disappointment for the cheerleaders, especially for those who have been with the program for years. Jenna Garra, a junior with two years’ experience on the team, was named captain for the 2020-2021 season before activities were halted in March. Garra was excited about the coming season, and continued to hold out hope until it was officially cancelled in July. When asked how she took the news she said, “I was very upset because football season is our favorite time of the year, and that means no practice for the team either.”

The cancellation of fall sports has had wide-ranging effects on the cheerleaders. They are used to the demanding schedule a school year brings, but now find themselves in an unfamiliar position of having free time on their hands. Finding ways to fill their schedule can be a challenging task for athletes. Losing the structure that comes with being on the cheerleading team requires an adjustment to self-discipline, but they have adapted to the changes introduced to their lives this semester.

Cheerleading is a demanding sport that requires team members to be physically fit. The athletes train throughout the offseason in preparation for the fall semester, which is the time cheerleading season typically kicks in to gear. With training facilities closed, cheerleaders had to find different ways to stay in shape. Running, walking, and bike riding have been popular choices for some of them, but those options will diminish as the weather turns cold.

Amber Muller, a junior on the team with two years of experience was also disappointed to hear the football season was cancelled saying, “I was very upset because I knew that our season would be cancelled too.” Commenting on the decision to cancel she said, “I was not in favor of cancelling the season. I would have liked to still cheer at conference games even if there was limited capacity in the stands.”

 The teammates both noted they have extra time available in daily schedules with the season cancelled, and shared their experiences with that adjustment. Muller thrives on a busy schedule explaining, “There is a lot more time on my hands now and sometimes it’s hard to know how to occupy myself when I’m always so used to being busy.”

Garra also misses the busy schedule, but points out she has made the best of it. “I’m way less stressed and have more time to focus on my school work and spend quality time with my friends and family now,” she said. While both Garra and Muller acknowledged that the decision to cancel sports did not come as a surprise, the disappointment was no less when the news became official.

The decision to cancel fall sports was not made lightly. University officials decided to cancel all MU sports when the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) opted to skip the 2020 fall season in mid-July. The football team however plays in the Big South Conference, which had not canceled at that time. When asked if the university was considering allowing the football team play if there was a season, Athletic Director Marilyn McNeil, Ph.D. said, “The University believed that if it wasn’t safe for one sport it would not be safe for any sport.” She added that the Big South Conference wound up cancelling their season soon after Monmouth’s decision, and the Hockey Team plays in the America East which had also cancelled their season. McNeil added “The NCAA has since established spring championship dates, so we are making plans to prepare and compete in those spring championships.”

There is no way to forecast if some athletes may decide against returning to sports in the upcoming seasons due to health concerns related to COVID-19, with McNeil noting, “It is impossible to have a crystal ball at this time. We are confident that we will be able to hold our winter sports as planned with a few adjustments.” While those adjustments were not outlined in her response, McNeil said she expects spring sports to be held as planned, but university officials will continue to monitor the number of positive cases, science, and daily progress as a matter of safety protocols.

Monmouth University’s Men’s basketball season is scheduled to begin on Nov. 25th and the cheerleaders are hopeful that they will be able to cheer at the games. The basketball team plays in the MAAC, where university President D. Patrick Leahy, Ed.D. serves as the Vice Chair of the conference’s Presidents’ Council. Leahy is also chairing a committee that examined the logistics of opening the basketball season for the conference, according to McNeil.

 With a limitation of 25 people permitted in an indoor venue, McNeil was asked if the cheerleaders will be allowed to perform at those games. She advised that it was not a university decision and “attendance at our basketball games, right now, is solely within the purview of the governor of New Jersey”. This would seem to leave the fate of MU cheerleaders returning to action in November in the hands of Governor Phil Murphy.

PHOTO COURTESY of Monmouth Athletics