WT launches controversial University Spirit Program

On Monday, WT official launched its new University Spirit Program. University officials said the new program will encompass all of WT’s spirit organizations and initiatives, including a new WT Spirit Squad as well as traditions like Maroon Platoon, Bucky the Mascot, West Texas Wednesdays and more.

“School spirit is truly the heart of the University,” said Vice President for Student Enrollment, Engagement and Success Mike Knox. “We are excited to roll out this new program because we think University Spirit will increase school pride and student involvement, not only at athletic contests but also at other student activities year-round.”

University Spirit is a new program of the Student Enrollment, Engagement and Success Division, housed within its Office of Student Engagement and Leadership.

“SEES and the OSEL are natural homes for University Spirit because we expect the program to serve our students by helping bolster a sense of pride and belonging across campus while creating connections throughout the entire Buff family,” said Amber Black, SEES assistant vice president.

University Spirit will feature squads of high-profile campus representatives at football, basketball and volleyball games, as well as at school functions like New Student Orientation, Welcome Week and Family Weekend, Black said.

Among the components of University Spirit:

WT Spirit Squad: The new squad will be comprised of 24 student athletes with either dance or cheer skills. The WT Spirit Squad will engage the crowd by leading cheers and chants, entertaining at halftime and breaks, and assisting with promotions and contests. The Spirit Squad also can perform at a variety of special events or celebrations.

Tryout information will be available at wtamu.edu/spirit in early May; additional details will be announced soon. Those with tumbling, dance and cheer experience will be able to showcase their individual talents through the tryout process.

Maroon Platoon: The student-led organization, with chanting and dancing members decked out in maroon body paint, will continue to play a valuable role at athletic competitions.

Herdsmen and Thunder: The University’s live buffalo mascot is cared for by the men and women of the Herdsmen, under the oversight of the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.

Other University Spirit initiatives include Bucky the Mascot; West Texas Wednesdays, when students, faculty and staff wear maroon weekly; Buff Branding, a series of orientation events designed to introduce elements of campus life to new students and transfers; Pigskin Revue, the traditional Homecoming pep rally; the Homecoming parade; Paint the Town Maroon, where WT students paint windows around campus and Canyon for Homecoming Week; student organization tailgating; and more.

WT's new program does not come without controversy. Many members of the former WT cheerleading team felt blindsided by the schools decision. 

"The students were told that team members will not be required to have stunting skills to be part of the program because those skills are not necessary for the squad that the University envisions. We also discussed he vision for enhancing and expanding spirit activities for students and fans under the supervision of University employees. 

"WT will continue to work with cheer and dance to restructure all spirit activities, including out mascot, our Herdsmen and our pep band. Working together, all the spirit programs will improve the experience of fans and guests and provide cheer, dance and other spirit activities at sporting competitions and University events," WT said in a statement to High Plains Pundit.

Colton Hubbard was on the team throughout his whole college experience, however, West Texas A&M University has announced the cheerleading and dance teams will be combined in fall 2021. During a meeting held by the administration, questions were asked but Hubbard says definitive answers weren’t.

“Everybody that we asked kind of worked around every question that we had,” said former WT cheerleader Colton Hubbard. “We asked why it was canceled, what the motive for it was, what models what schools that got this from. It’s clear they don’t understand college cheerleading.”

“If I’m speaking for everyone, I think no one is interested in trying out for it because it’s not something we are all passionate about like the cheerleading team,” Hubbard said.

Kerrigan Grantham, another former WT cheerleader said the structure of the new team and how each individuals’ skills would be utilized is also unknown.

“They don’t know the tryout material, they don’t know when the tryouts are they don’t even know a coach,” Grantham said. “And one of my questions in the meeting was is the coach going to be cheer or dance or in between, no one knows anything about it.’”

WT’s Athletic Director Michael McBroom defended the schools decision to change the cheer program.

“We did a lot of research and looking at what spirit was shaping up at different universities and had talks on campus and off and the one that really resonated with us and with me is to have, you know, kind of combined forces and have one team that will be kind of our cheer team-spirit team.

“If you have the dance skills, and you have the cheer skills, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to do those things. We still may have small groups that do tumbling and and in groups that do dance routines at halftime, but it’s not going to be required to be a member of this team.

“What we are doing is saying that the lifts and the more dangerous activities of stunting that are typically suited for competitive cheer teams, which our cheer team historically has not competed, we’re not going to do those.”

“If stunting is something that is critical to your cheer experience and spirit experience at WT then yes, you’ll probably have to figure out another place to cheer,” McBroom said.

WT president Dr. Walter Wendler also defended the university's new program.

"Cheer and dance are not being eliminated. WT cheer and dance, and extended spirit programs will have an expanded impact on the campus experience. 

"You can help by remaining patient while changes are entirely, carefully, and professionally worked through, and a renewed vision for spirit activities is shaped that will enable WT to better serve student and alumni communities," Wendler said.

The comments from university officials did ease the pain of the situation felt by many of the former WT cheerleaders.

“We really just felt like we were betrayed, and we didn’t get the insight beforehand that we should have, and that we deserved. We didn’t get the chance to prove ourselves as a team,” former WT cheerleader Maddi Hanke said.

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