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Behind the Bruin: Belmont’s cheer team brings strength, stamina and smiles to the court

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

Basketball season is coming to an end, but at its peak, Belmont’s Curb Event Center explodes with energy.

Obviously, the men’s and women’s basketball teams bring the heat of play, the fans bring the decibels in response to ebb and flow of the game and the Bruin Blast Pep Band keeps the show going.

But there is another piece of the puzzle that sustains the spirit: the Belmont cheerleading team.

If you’ve attended a basketball game or two, chances are you’ve noticed some pompom-shaking, backflip-taking and megaphone noise-making.

Belmont’s cheerleaders make their routines look easy — and always with a smile — but did you know that’s what they do for six straight hours, multiple times a week? Or that most girls on the team have been involved in cheer from the age of 3? Or the majority of the guys had zero cheer experience before Belmont?

“The cheerleaders are far more talented than what you see at a basketball game,” said head cheerleading coach Lindsey Wheeley. The standards for the sport are high, and there’s more to the team than what a gameday glimpse reveals.

The Belmont cheerleaders spread Bruins pride during the Feb. 26 homecoming doubleheader versus Tennessee State University. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision

Currently consisting of five guys and 12 girls, the members of the squad need an 8-minute mile time to participate; they need to meet nights and weekends for practice; they lift twice a week; they tumble on the floor of the old Sports Science Center; and they work out on their own, all while representing the Belmont brand.

It’s a seven-days-a-week kind of deal, and it’s never about them.

Because at the end of the day, they’re not the team fans come to watch. But they always strive to hit their marks anyway.

“It’s not about prepping for the team that you’re facing, it’s perfecting everything within your team,” first-year Belmont cheerleader Ethan Pratt said.

Continuously showing up for someone else can be strenuous, especially when it involves keeping up that shining cheerleader smile, but it would be even more strenuous if that smile wasn’t genuine.

“They’re naturally happy people,” Wheeley said. Her cheerleaders perform like they belong on Belmont’s home court.

“The feeling of walking out into the Curb on game day … standing on the court and looking up at the student section … it is so natural,” cheer co-captain Maddie Young said. 

And her teammates say it’s a pleasure to put in the work.

“When the fans are cheering, laughing, having a fun time, it 100% makes me that much happier,” Pratt said. 

Ethan Pratt and teammates at the Feb. 26 homecoming doubleheader versus Tennessee State University. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision

But just as for anyone in the arena, bad days happen, and that’s when having their coach behind the scenes helps the team bounce back game after game.

Wheeley came to Belmont upon graduating from the University of Alabama, where she was a cheerleader herself and is now closing on two decades as a coach for the Bruins.

Previously a full-time marketing professional and now a full-time mom to her 3-year-old son, coaching Belmont cheer is a part-time gig for Wheeley, and with so much going on, a work-family balance can be challenging to strike.

But with her pure passion for the sport and her care for the personal and athletic ggrowth of her cheerleaders, it still doesn’t feel like a job, Wheeley said.

“What’s most rewarding for me is being able to sit back at a game and watch what all they’ve accomplished in such a short amount of time … and to see all the hard work come together,” she said.

Quite the perfectionist, Wheeley makes sure everyone is safe while stunting by nailing down details during the hours upon hours of practice.

However, cheerleading is a dangerous sport that requires mounds of trust.

Only this year, the squad have called two ambulances to their training site which, again, is a consequence of the sport that often goes unnoticed.

What makes the risks worth it though, is their love for Belmont and each other.

For some, being a Bruin was a last-minute decision while for others, it was a dream come true.

Young always wanted to be a nurse, and pursuing that career as a student-athlete at Belmont checked all her boxes.

For her co-captain, Kat Kaminski, who’s competed on all the cheerleading stages you could think of, it wasn’t until the end of her senior year in high school that she found out about Belmont and got completely hooked by the coach, the location and the opportunities it opened, she said.

The encouraging and family-like atmosphere of the cheer team locked them in, and the co-captains continue pushing each other to new heights.

Because despite being on the sidelines majority of the season, some years bring competition of their own, where the cheerleaders can take center stage.

“The highest we have ever placed at UCA college nationals in Orlando is fourth,” said Wheely. “Everybody always constantly wants to raise the bar and improve.”

A big goal for Belmont’s cheerleaders is thus to finish in the top three, to step up on the podium to receive a medal for their 2 1/2-minute routine.

That’s what it comes down to. 

Just 150 seconds to shine after all the time and energy poured into the program, after prepping their bodies and minds on game days — as well as every other day — and after being Bruin ambassadors and role models on campus.

“People can think all they want about cheerleading in general, but we are working so hard to be a good face for Belmont,” Kaminski said.

“We put our heart and soul into everything that we do, and I think people forget that.”

The next steps for the cheerleading team are a March Madness trip to Knoxville with women’s basketball Saturday, a tryout prep clinic on Apr. 9 and an upcoming fall season in the Missouri Valley Conference.

So when the Curb comes back to life this fall, bring the energy not only for the basketball teams but for the cheerleaders’ hard work as well.


PHOTO: Cheer co-captain Maddie Young at the Feb. 26 homecoming doubleheader versus Tennessee State University. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision

This article was written by Jessica Mattsson.

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