BUSINESS

Column: What I learned from being an Ole Miss cheerleader

Ole Miss Cheerleaders. Photo from Ole Miss season. DePaolo is featured at far right.

Rachel DePaolo
Oxford Stories
rlfinebe@go.olemiss.edu

The question of whether or not cheerleading is a sport has been debated. Since I have been involved in this sport since I was 2 years old, I wanted to share the reality of cheerleading at the collegiate level. Cheerleaders are some of the most underappreciated athletes.

Never in a million years would I have guessed I would become an Ole Miss cheerleader in the SEC, the best conference in college football.

Never did I think I would cheer in front of 100,000 people, give or take, at the Alabama game when Ole Miss went back to back.

National Championship title win. DePaolo is featured at far right. Photo by Suzanne Carpenter.

Never did I envision traveling to San Francisco, California or Orlando multiple times or winning a National Championship the first time in the program’s history. 

For those experiences, I am forever grateful that I lived out my dream for three years, and cheered at the best university there is. Here are three things I wish I knew going into it.

Love yourself

I had no idea what to expect when I became a cheerleader. I had no idea people I had never met would see me on TV, not to mention while wearing a crop top uniform and tiny skirt. Physical appearance was always the biggest pressure, so loving yourself is important. This is important and applies to everything, not just cheerleading, but especially in cheerleading. Don’t compare yourself or your image to others, because you will get too caught up in that and start to let it overpower your mind, thinking you aren’t good enough or pretty enough.

National show offs. DePaolo is featured second from left. Photo by Hannah Ward.

Time management

Learn to manage your time is common advice. I thought I knew how to do this, but becoming a college cheerleader, I was wrong. Not only was I a full-time student, I was balancing my school schedule with my practice schedule and also making sure I had time to study and do my homework. Cheerleading is a year-round sport. During the week, you will have workouts in the morning, class in the day, practice in the evening, and a game or appearance later that day. There is always something a cheerleader can be doing or appearing at.

Sacrifice

All athletes have to give up some things. Sometimes, you can’t do what your peers do. Many of your weekends and vacation days or breaks will involve practicing. The three years I cheered at Ole Miss, I have gone home a total of two months. During most breaks, cheerleaders have to practice or cheer for another sports team. Christmas break is well known as a time for cheerleaders to shine and practice for national competitions to represent our university and show the world what we really do.

The reality is cheerleading involves more than just leading cheers. However, that is what the public sees us doing, so that may make some view cheerleaders as non-athletic. We are still fighting for respect for our sport.

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