When Makayla George had to quit this university’s official cheer team to go abroad, she thought she would have to leave her passion behind forever.
The University of Maryland has a formal cheer team that competes in the National Cheerleaders Association division 1A and cheers for various sports at this university. But many college cheerleaders leave the mat by the time they arrive at this university. Many who join the official team can struggle with its intense time commitment, George said.
“I came back and I still really wanted to cheer,” the senior information systems major said. “There are so many cheerleaders at our school who just don’t have the time to be on the cheer team, or they don’t want to travel and do all those extra things, but they’re really excited to compete.”
This year, George started a club cheerleading team at this university to bring together other students in her same position. Before the Maryland Club Cheer team’s creation, there was no way for former cheerleaders not on the official university team to continue their passion on campus.
“I really wanted to find a way to make cheerleading more accessible to everyone and more fun,” George said.
The Maryland Club Cheer Team is a competition group that brings together cheerleaders on campus of all different skill levels. Instead of cheering at football, basketball and other sports games like this university’s official cheer team, they focus solely on competitions. In April, this group will look to compete at National Cheerleaders Association College Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida – yes, that same Daytona from Netflix’s hit show Cheer.
“I didn’t think it would be possible,” George said. “To now look at our GroupMe and see 72 people, it‘s just like, ‘wow, I’m so proud of myself.’”
To prepare for Daytona, the team practices twice a week, where they create practice routines, work on skills, tighten up jumps and do conditioning. The group has also held fundraisers to compete at the national competition.
The team’s coach Justin Furr, a West Virginia University cheer alum and current Baltimore Ravens cheerleader, met George a few years ago while teaching cheer summer camps.
So far, Furr has enjoyed building this university’s club cheer team “from the ground up.” He never got the chance to compete at the National Cheerleaders Association competition in Daytona Beach, so Furr has been able to live vicariously through the team as he helps prepare the squad.
“I love the idea of having a fresh start and having a whole new team,” Furr said. “The drive to want to succeed and want to be great is there whenever you start with a new program, but then also you’re able to tailor it to how you want and how you imagine.”
Fundraising chair Alex Rawlings said joining club cheer has helped her gain more confidence than she ever had as a high school cheerleader. It has been “hard being the center of attention” as a cheer flyer in the past, but being part of this university’s club cheer team has been rewarding.
“On this team, it’s been a point to try to put me with people who work with my strengths,” the junior economics major said.
Although George started the club cheer team during her senior year at this university, she hopes the group can continue helping former cheerleaders reconnect with their passions.
For Furr, cheering in college led him to his friend group. As a new college coach, he hopes to replicate that positive experience for people on his team.
“Those bonds are super important for me and I really cherish them, so I hope I can do the same thing and just foster that good environment,” Furr said.