Nobody knows what the 2020 college football season holds. But if there indeed is one, FIU’s spirit squads are ready.
FIU Cheer and the FIU Dazzlers, the university’s dance team, held virtual tryouts for their 2020-21 rosters in May.
Despite uncertainty around fall semester, the cheerleaders received 130 applications, a team record.
“Right now, it’s such a scary and exciting time for FIU Cheer,” said Cory Hines, head coach of the team.
Hines’ athletes are becoming national standouts in the world of cheer. In 2019, they took second place at College Nationals in Daytona Beach in Division I Co-ed Intermediate. It was their best placement to date.
Cheerleaders at other schools have noticed FIU’s rise.
“I just loved the morale and the vibe FIU has,” says senior captain Patrick Franklin, who transferred from a college in New York after meeting the Panthers at College Nationals. “So from there, I was like, ‘You know, I’m going to do it.’ I applied, got accepted and transferred.”
Applicants for the 2020-21 team include transfer students like Franklin, incoming freshmen and graduate students. They were told to submit videos completing cheer-savvy moves, like jumps and flips (if they could be done safely). They also performed the FIU fight song.
The finalists were invited to private Zoom interviews so the coaches could better gauge their personalities. Acrobatics alone do not make a top cheerleader.
“You have to know how to get those little kids out of their seat when we have one of these crazy pep rallies at noon for basketball,” Hines said.
The Dazzlers also received a large virtual turnout. More than 50 students applied for a team that is returning only 14 members.
They too are roaring onto the national competitive stage.In 2019, they took third place in Division 1-A Hip-Hop at College Nationals. FIU placed right behind the Louisville Cardinals and BYU Cougarettes, who are 20-time and 19-time national champions, respectively.
“We’re making sure people know that we’re not just moving our pom poms. We’re really hard workers and putting our name out there,” said senior captain Reese Garcia.
Applicants for the Dazzlers had their own tryout process, which simulated what being a member of the team is like. They were sent instructions for a choreography routine the night before their auditions.
“They would have to wake up, start getting hair and makeup ready, basically all the things we would expect them to do [for a performance],” Dazzler coach David Nunez said.
Those who were invited to the second round spent 40 minutes learning a new hip-hop routine over Zoom with Nunez. They were then asked to perform both their first-day and second-day dances.
Final candidates were chosen for the Dazzlers, but spots on the team were not fully guaranteed. A concern among dance and cheerleading coaches nationally is that they might be 'catfished.' That people will be great online, but struggle in-person. The Dazzlers are requiring their new students to perform at the team's boot camp before their spots are determined.
“I feel confident that we shouldn’t have any issues with any of the people we picked because we’ve had a superior level of technical ability and performance level come in this year, which was phenomenal to see,” Nunez said.
If cheerleading and dancing does return this Fall, credit technology for allowing FIU to keep its momentum going.
“I think everybody is kind of waiting to roll with the punches, you know? At the least we hope to begin training for our return to College Nationals in April, but in a perfect scenario, we would love to return in full capacity to supporting the university and athletic programs that we love,” Hines said.