By Michael Willson
This season holds a number of big changes for the Virginia Wesleyan Cheerleading squad.
VWC alumnus Desiree Ellison joins the Marlins as their new coach. Ellison, who graduated in 2008, was a member of the team herself. She said she is excitement about coaching at her alma mater.
“I had an amazing experience when I was a cheerleader here . . . I absolutely love Virginia Wesleyan. I think it’s a beautiful campus and the people are wonderful. It’s just a great place to be and I want to continue that legacy of it being a good place to be for men and women here,” Ellison said.
Ellison brings a coaching style that is different than her predecessor, Jennifer Lewis. Ellison provides a more hands-on coaching style and incorporates ideas from team members into their stunts.
“She is willing to let us try new things. She’s more explorative than our old coach,” senior base Jeanice Reed said. “We get to play a larger role in what we do as a team like choosing our own stunts. We bring ideas to the table all the time,” Reece said.
Ellison praises the team for their different ideas and credits it as being the team’s biggest success.
“Our biggest strength is our creativity. They have a hundred billion ideas on what we can do and what we should do. There are different videos that they will look at and then send them to me at midnight saying, ‘Hey coach, can we try this?’ Their dedication and creativity blows me away every day,” Ellison said.
In addition to a new head coach, the team also welcomes two new male members: senior base Keith Savage and junior base Josh Kelly. With the extra strength from the male members, the team is able to perform stunts that it was not able to before.
“They are fantastic. I think that they bring a new level to the team and allow us to try harder stunts and just do a lot of new things,” junior base Georgia Walker said.
Kelly has been involved with cheerleading since he was ten. He cheered for both his middle and high school teams as well as an all-star team called Cheereruption. He started cheering with the Marlins by happenstance when Ellison asked if he could assist with a stunt.
“The coach here came into the gym one day while I was lifting, and asked if she could have some help doing a stunt and one of my friends was like, ‘Oh, well he cheered.’ So I went in there and talked to her for a little bit, helped them out, and decided that I would come back and I just stuck with it,” Kelly said.
The team only cheers at the men’s and women’s basketball games, but they are hoping to have the opportunity to compete. In order for them to compete, they will need to increase their membership.
“I would really like to start doing competitions next year. If our team is big enough and practice, we could do competitions. We could start off at exhibitions and then compete in the NCAA,” Kelly said.
Ellison said cheerleading is just as much of a sport as the other athletic programs on campus and wants the Wesleyan community to recognize this.
“We need people to understand that we are athletes, that we do put in work. We work out every morning at 7 a.m. We do everything from running to lifting weights to lifting each other. There is a whole lot of effort that goes into it,” Ellison said.
Ellison is working toward recruiting new members by meeting with the different high schools in the Hampton Roads area. The team has already recruited five incoming freshmen. In addition to recruiting freshmen, the team is also recruiting current students by hosting open practices.
“We are happy to have anyone come to an open practice and either check us out or try it out. We are going to start hosting open practices throughout the season and post them on our Facebook page and social media,” Ellison said.
Walker said spectators notice the team more at games now.
“We just have a lot of new stunts that the crowds like. We’ve been getting compliments from people in the crowd. They’ve never complimented us before, but now we have people do that. It’s just a huge accomplishment and I love it,” Walker said.