March 29, 2019
On March 7, the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) cheerleading squad won Championship Runner Up in the 2019 CUNY Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) cheerleading competition, showcasing their talent alongside the best squads across CUNY.
That recognition reflects the cheerleaders’ dedication to rigorous practice, and their determination to build jumps, stunts and tumbling skills.
The team members — Ashley Baez, Neila Charles, Ann Eugene, Kemberly Ferdinand, Astrid Hernandez, Smarlyn Hernandez, Yvana Jean, Marceline Jules, Jesinowska Lagas Monclus, Zakiya Moore, Narelyn Oliveras, Destiny Otero, Rebecca Oxley, Ashlee Shealey, Leroy Thom, Nazier Thomas, Teemara Williams and Sean Wong — also write their own chants, and work hard to choreograph their moves.
“We meet three times a week and personally, I practice over 40 hours a week,” says cheerleader and criminal justice major Narelyn Oliveras. “It’s really fun. It’s all about the attitude, being open to criticism from your coach and teammates.”
A successful cheer is also about trust, says her fellow cheerleader, Teemara Williams. “In the beginning of the year, we got to know each other really well. That’s how trust happens. It takes trust to do some of the moves we have. You’re lifting people up, they’re flying in the air.”
Williams, a business management major with a specialty in marketing, won the 2019 CUNYAC sportsmanship award, and was drawn to cheerleading because of its discipline and choreography.
“I did dance since I was four years old and was in a junior section of Alvin Ailey,” she says. “I also did track in high school. Dance and cheering have always kept me focused.” She adds that the BMCC squad “has worked hard to be taken seriously as athletes. We focus on muscle movements, and mentally we have to have incredible focus.”
Team effort inspires victory
The cheerleading squad at BMCC exists as a club, and their faculty advisor is BMCC College Discovery Counselor Adrian T. Solomon. While they aren’t able to attend away games, they faithfully cheer every athletic event held in the BMCC gymnasium at 199 Chambers Street.
“We go to every home game, women’s and men’s,” says cheerleader and nursing major Kemberly Ferdinand. “If they play back-to-back we cheer for both games. We’re on our feet the whole time.”
Ferdinand, who has been a cheerleader since high school, isn’t fazed by the hard work it takes to be on the squad. “I’ve always loved cheerleading,” she says. “Everyone has to work together, you need the whole team effort.”
Having brought gymnastic skills to her repertoire, “I love going up in the air and flying; the thrill, flipping and coming down,” Ferdinand says. “Then there is the Power Press, where you go up in the air, do a toe-touch, and come back down.”
Safety is a priority
The strength, precision and focus it takes to pull off a cheer that can rouse an audience and inspire a team to victory is hard work, says Breana Edmunds, a video arts and technology major who was captain of the squad and now serves as assistant coach alongside head coach Matthew Brown.
“I’m a U.S.A. Gymnastics, USAG-certified gymnast, so I help the team with tumbles and other moves,” she says. “Stunting is the hardest. The goal is to reach a level of stability in the stunt, to ‘hit it’ consistently, and feel it in their bones.”
Cheering is also about safety. Tumbling, leaps and handsprings on a wood or mat floor are part of the experience. Coordinated lifts of team members is a highlight of the routines.
“Safety is a priority,” says Coach Brown, who holds American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) Spirit Safety Certification. The BMCC cheerleaders also follow recommendations from the U.S. All Star Federation, which no longer allows three-person-high pyramids or double flips.
Many roles, one dynamic squad
As Edmunds explains, the whole is only as strong as the sum of its parts, and those parts include a “flyer,” who is tossed in the air; a “base,” who provides ground support, and “backspots,” who reinforce the ground crew.
The role of cheerleading squads in firing up crowds at games is an integral part of American sports.
In 1978, a collegiate cheerleading championship aired for the first time on network TV. Today, high school athletic associations in 29 states recognize cheerleading as a sport, with its focus on sportsmanship, team dynamics and personal best goals. While more than 90 percent of cheerleaders nationwide are female, more men are joining the squads, and this is true at BMCC, as well.
Liberal Arts major Sean Wong joined the BMCC cheerleading squad in Fall 2018. “Back in high school, I was a gymnast,” he says. “I played lacrosse, fencing and tennis but my main sport was gymnastics and I thought I could bring my athletic ability to cheerleading.”
When asked what he would say to other BMCC students considering the cheerleading club, Wong says, “It keeps you physically fit and active, you learn how to tumble, and the discipline carries over into things like getting to class on time. Also, you have to keep your GPA up, to be on the squad, so that’s an incentive.”
As Wong mentioned, the BMCC cheerleaders are required to be students in good standing. After all, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a cheerleader at Madison High School in Brooklyn. It has yet to be determined where the ambition of the BMCC cheerleaders will take them, as they foster school pride and build community at games — but there is no doubt they are on their way.
For more information, contact BMCC College Discovery Counselor Adrian T. Solomon, email@example.com.
- BMCC cheerleading squad named Runner Up in the 2019 CUNYAC Championship Cheerleading Competition
- Cheerleaders energize team spirit and community at men’s and women’s BMCC home games, year round
- Many of the cheerleaders have gymnastics or dance backgrounds