Now in his second year coaching at Murray State Head Cheerleading Coach Raymond Jenkins is starting to build the squad he has hoped to bring to the University.
“Over half the team is freshmen this year, which kind of works because that makes me able to unfold the team in the way that I think is best,” Jenkins said. “You want to have veterans, but you also want the younger ones to come in and start your program and build from there.”
The team he’s building toward would ideally not only be capable of competing, but also better support the teams they cheer for.
“My vision is to eventually have a team the University can get behind and support and to get Murray State’s crowd much more involved in the games,” Jenkins said. “We’re trying to do a lot more sign work and floor cheers for basketball games because it gets the crowd a little bit more into yelling at the games and getting that college atmosphere. My vision is to have a crowd come and cheer like they would at a UK game and just really supporting their effort.”
Jenkins’ vision of supporting other teams does not stand as an argument against cheerleading as a sport. At least not with Jenkins.
“I think definitely cheerleading’s a sport,” Jenkins said. “It requires a well-rounded athlete nowadays. It’s so much different than your mother’s cheerleading. You can’t just have them walk off the street and be able to pull off a stunt or tumbling skills or the energy needed. The skills that are required, the strength, the technique, are really down to a science. Everything you do requires a specific technique in order to show off your best skills. It’s one of those sports that people tend to ignore until something bad happens and then everyone notices. It really does require a lot of repetition and practice.”
More than that, Jenkins would argue the athleticism is necessary not only to showcase skill, but also to keep his cheerleaders safe.
“One of the things that we always say is that we don’t do a stunt unless we can get it 10 times out of 10,” Jenkins said. “Even then something can go wrong. It’s just a matter of staying poised and focused the whole time and keeping our minds on safety. My job as a coach is to make sure they’re doing things the right way and the safest way possible.”
In fact, keeping the people safe is a large part of what male cheerleaders do for the team.
“The role for the guys is really to support what the girls are doing,” Jenkins said. “They’re really adding that base to the cheers and the chants as well as adding a lot more to the stunts. The girls are the ones who shine and the guys are the ones who support.”
As such, he said the idea that the men who do choose to cheer are weaker than those who choose other sports is simply untrue.
“One of the things I start teaching guys when they first come to the team is that how much strength and technique they have to have and really working through that so that I debunk that myth,” Jenkins said. “A lot of them come in thinking of cheerleading as simple and easy, but when they learn that first stunt they realize that they can’t do it as well as they should, and it becomes a challenge. It’s really that challenge that makes guys want to cheer.”
And they do want to cheer. In fact they want to cheer so much that it doesn’t matter what stereotypes are attached to them.
“You’re automatically labeled as gay, but that doesn’t bother me,” Travis Whitlow, freshman cheerleader, said. “I know I’m not gay and I like cheerleading. I’m not going to let other people stop me from doing what I like to do.”
Regardless of the stereotypes, the male cheerleaders have made a positive come back to the Murray State squad.
“Most of the people I’ve talked to in college about it think it’s really cool that Murray has guy cheerleaders again,” Heath Howard, freshman cheerleader, said. “We’ve shown everyone that we can be better by not only having guys but by putting everyone together. We have more strengths now than we did in the past.”