Story by Jake Fink / Contributing Writer
Fans have returned to the campus of MTSU as football opens its doors at Floyd Stadium despite safety measures and general unease about the virus to watch and support the Blue Raiders in the last two weeks.
But while the tough regimen to keep players safe from the MTSU athletic department has been put into play, off to the side is another team representing the True Blue that has also seen major changes.
The 20-member dance team and nearly 30 cheer team members at MTSU work almost year-round to perfect techniques that promote school spirit on game day.
“You can compare it to any other sport. I feel that the physical demand on their bodies and what we require from them is definitely equal to any other sport,” said spirit coordinator Dante Tennant.
After spending two years with Vanderbilt, Tennant has returned for a fifth season in Murfreesboro. Dance team Coach Katie Stricklin said she hopes people acknowledge the degree of difficulty involved in dancing.
“They’ve definitely been training for their whole life. We do many different styles, we don’t just do what you see on game day,” said Stricklin.
Just like the school’s football and basketball teams, the cheer and dance teams compete against other schools on a national level. Both teams have annual events they compete in every year in Florida.
“There’s so much that goes into it, to choreography, paying for it, and fundraising. It is definitely one part of [dancing] that they really love, said Stricklin.
Unlike other sports, cheer and dance teams don’t receive adequate funding to fly to those competitions. This includes the C-USA basketball tournament in Dallas and postseason bowl games in football. Tennant said the length of the bus trip to Dallas for basketball is very long.
“Post-season football is a little bit different because no matter where we go, we will take a bus with the band,” said Stricklin.
The school’s football and basketball teams, on the other hand, fly to their destinations.
The global pandemic affected the spirit teams just like almost everyone else. Tennent’s squad had to postpone preseason practice by three weeks due to a single positive test. The teams don’t practice as much as they would on a normal year, and they abide by social distancing protocols during practice. Over the summer, the teams typically conduct a camp in late July so dancers can learn techniques and build team chemistry. Social distancing changed the way practice is held.
However, the dancers understand the situation they’re in and remain optimistic.
“I don’t think [the pandemic] has affected it negatively, it’s just different,” said Tennant.
From now on, Blue Raider fans can expect to see the cheer and dance teams exhibit the same spirit on game days with masks on, which Stricklin said adds another degree of difficulty to the sport, and hopefully, fans will show their appreciation for their hard work.