Notre Dame cheerleading competes in UCA College National Championship
Peter Breen | Friday, May 19, 2023
From the beginning of football in August to the end of the men’s and women’s basketball in March or April, the Notre Dame cheerleading team is standing on the sidelines rooting for the Fighting Irish.
The team is composed of 18 female and 18 male cheerleaders along with the four leprechauns. For the past two years, seniors Cullen MacQuarrie and Kailey Conners have cheered on the gold squad. The six male cheerleaders, six female cheerleaders and a leprechaun travel to all the away football games.
“Going to away football games is the coolest thing,” Conners said. “We get to travel to all these different places, all these schools. I never would have gone to any of these places, like the bowl games as well.”
On top of cheering for six sports seasons, practicing several nights a week and morning lifts twice per week at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, the cheer team, for the first time ever, competed in the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) College National Championship this year. The tournament takes place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Notre Dame made its debut in the tournament’s game-day division.
“You have to perform your fight song, then you do a defense or offense cheer for your football team — crowd engagement stuff — and then we do more skills like tumbling, baskets, pyramids or stunting — throwing everybody in the air, stuff like that,” Conners said.
The cheer team placed ninth, an excellent result for the program’s first trip to nationals, Conners said. For Conners, a cheerleader since kindergarten who always dreamed of cheering in college, the UCA was the perfect way to go out.
“What makes our team really special is that we’re a game day team, basically meaning that we’re on the field, we’re on the court,” Conners said. “[The UCA] was a super cool change of pace. But then to finish out my career competing again was just really full circle and so cool.”
Like most men on the team, MacQuarrie, the gold squad captain, never cheered a day in his life before college. His first year, MacQuarrie was recruited by a junior living on his floor in Keough Hall and the then-gold leprechaun who saw him do the splits for Walsh Hall’s Mr. ND Pageant.
“Pretty much you show up to our gym, called gym one. You sign a waiver, you practice with us and we teach you. If you tumble, you tumble. If you don’t know how to tumble, we try to teach you,” MacQuarrie said. “I met a lot of the guys and bonded well with them. I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll give this a shot.’”
MacQaurrie said a big job of the male cheerleaders is recruiting. The opportunities to be on the field for football games and to work with the University’s professional strength coaches are good selling points. But “a love for Notre Dame” is what makes a great cheerleader, Conners said.
“If you didn’t really care about Notre Dame sports or something like that, it probably is really hard to do our job because we are cheering for these teams with everything we got,” Conners said. “Even when we’re losing to Marshall or it’s pouring rain and we’re freezing, we’re still excited to be there. We’re trying to get the crowd excited.”
Though cheerleaders must balance a tireless schedule as student-athletes, none are on athletic scholarships.
“We don’t get help from admissions. While we say the term recruitment, that’s just me trying to swindle a guy,” MacQaurrie said. “We all got into this university on our own, so I’d say that’s like a big nod to all the cheerleaders.”
Connors said she learned her priorities and time management cheering at the college level for four years.
“I’m sad if my friends in my dorm are all hanging out tonight, but I have a basketball game that I have to cheer at. But then I remember, when I’m at the basketball game that this is way more fun,” Connors said. “This is where I want to be.”
A solid group of friends was one of the best things MacQuarrie got from cheerleading, he said.
“I think as I spent more time with that eight, those eight guys, those eight seniors [on the cheer team] that I’m graduating with, I totally became best friends with them,” MacQaurrie said.
After 17 years of cheerleading, Connors said her body is ready to stop being thrown in the air.
“But I am planning on coaching a seventh-grade cheer team with my cousin back home this coming year,” Connors said. “So cheer is not leaving my life forever, but it’s been a good career.”