News>Feature - Academy cheerleaders encourage their team, community
Cheerleaders showcase their Air Force spirit during the Academy’s win against Idaho State Sept. 1, 2012. Academy cheerleaders practice two hours every day to develop chants, stunts and routines for every football and basketball game. (U.S. Air Force photo/Liz Copan)
Air Force Academy cheerleaders perform a pyramid stunt during the Air Force home opener at Falcon Stadium Sept. 1, 2012. The varsity squad comprises six male and six female cadets who perform at every football game. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Male cheerleaders run Air Force Academy flags across the field after an Air Force touchdown Sept. 1, 2012. Air Force defeated Idaho State in the Falcons' opening game of the season, 49-21. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
9/18/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Cheerleaders at the Air Force Academy have got a lot more than just spirit. Like every other cadet, they also have difficult courses to pass, training to attend and military duties to perform on top of cheerleading practice every day. Yet head cheerleading coach Laura Hutcheon said her teams are truly committed to supporting Academy athletics and getting involved in the community.
"We are the entertainment when there is no play going on," Hutcheon said. "My cheerleaders are the ringleaders. I tell them it's their responsibility to get the crowd involved in the game because spirit is important and can make a difference."
Hutcheon coaches the Academy's varsity and junior varsity cheerleading squads, the mascot team, and dance team and has a total of 50 cadets on her roster this year. The season runs early August through mid-March and the teams perform at all Academy football and basketball games.
Hutcheon said cheerleading is different from sports because it serves as more of a support role.
"I think my kids are incredibly athletic, but I don't think cheerleading is a sport," Hutcheon said. "Their job is to support teams the athletic department deems necessary to support. The attitude I try to instill in the squad is, what can we do for others? We provide a service, and with that mentality, I have seen the difference in how the cheerleaders are viewed here and the respect they are given."
On Aug. 21 cadets from the dance, mascot and cheerleading teams filmed a football promo for Colorado Springs KOAA Channel 5 that was submitted to play nationwide during Sunday night football.
"I have the best of both worlds being a cheerleader," said Cadet 2nd Class Amanda Herman, a cheerleader on the varsity squad. "Not only do I get to be an athlete, but I get to meet amazing people and represent an incredible institution. We work hard to look professional on the field, but more importantly, to build relationships with others so we can help benefit the cadet wing. It's a great team to be a part of."
Hutcheon said she sees a strong need for Academy teams to serve the community and has reached out to local schools because of it.
"I contacted School Districts 11, 20 and 38 and asked them how we could help," Hutcheon said. "I sent cheerleaders, football players and basketball players to elementary schools to speak on leadership and sign autographs."
Hutcheon said the cheerleaders have been just as eager to invest in community projects and have taken initiative with ideas.
"I always get excited when an email pops up from coach for an upcoming activity to go do outreach for the community," Herman said. "Every appearance is unique in the sense, you're going to be able to interact with a person you've never had the chance to talk to before and gain new insights, while at the same time promote the Academy."
Last fall the varsity squad performed at a cancer awareness rally in Calhan, Colo., and spoke at a high school pep rally in Oregon where one of the members on the squad attended school.
"He used it as an opportunity to tell the kids, 'This is an opportunity that anyone can do,'"Hutcheon said. "He was able to say, 'This is where I graduated and look at me, I'm hoping to be a pilot.' He let kids know that even though they're from a small town, they can go somewhere and get an education."
Last spring the cheerleading and dance teams volunteered to prepare breakfast for the homeless population at the Marian House, a soup kitchen in downtown Colorado Springs.
"I think my favorite part was preparing the food and cooking together as a team," said Cadet 3rd Class Elizabeth Kovarik, a cheerleader on the varsity squad. "It helped us bond on a non-cheer level. What makes helping out the community worthwhile is when a stranger comes up to me and thanks me for my service."
The Academy cheerleading and dance teams also participate every year in a cheer and dance clinic where they teach young girls a routine. Hutcheon said last year 230 children participated. They received T-shirts, a ticket to the Air Force vs. Colorado State football game and were able to perform during the halftime show.
"The kids are so happy to be there which makes us want to work that much harder to give them an experience they can remember and take away," Herman said. "Each kid also has a different background so it's great to be able to talk to them and learn something new about the community that we are a part of."
This year the mascot team hosted a new event called "Meet the Bird." Children were able to meet and take pictures with the Academy falcon mascot during the third quarter of the first football game. Hutcheon said the fans loved it.
"I'm always trying to think of new ways to make the Air Force more fan-friendly," Hutcheon said. "College football has such a rich tradition and I feel that with the small contribution we make, we can make someone's game experience a little better."
Hutcheon said when you give back to the community you gain more than you ever thought you would.
"I want to get across to Academy teams what community involvement can do for them personally," Hutcheon said. "It can do so much for their attitude, morale and well-being."
Hutcheon has been here since 2005 and has coached for eight seasons. She said after being a full-time mom and coach for pre-school gymnastics, she learned a great deal of patience and prepared her to coach at the Academy.
"I've grown a lot in this position," Hutcheon said. "It's been a long road, but I love my job. At the end of the day, I still have energy to do more, such as see how my teams can serve the community. That is what is most gratifying."