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The Florida Tech cheerleading team is getting a facelift.

“This year we’re out to make a name for ourselves. We want to redo the school’s outlook on us. We’re putting in a lot more work,” said returning sophomore back spot, Nicole Ward.

These changes will be possible thanks to a new full-time cheer coach, Alexa Sumner. Not only has she been dancing and cheering since the age of two, but she also comes with an NFL pedigree.

“I just retired from the NFL for the past four years. I cheered for the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers,” said Sumner.

Sumner’s main goal for the FIT squad is to turn the team into a competitive varsity sport.

“We are looking into right now being a building year, so we’re getting in the weight room, we are working with different trainers and we will be going to stunting classes and tumbling classes to really build their strength and their skill to be able to compete in the next oncoming years,” said Sumner.

Last year, for most of the squad, cheer was just something to do where you were on a team and got the best seats at football and basketball games, according to Ward.

This year, when asked if they thought cheerleading was really a sport, Ward, Chelsea Reichard, sophomore base, and Becca Candelaria, freshman base all had the same response — “Come to practice!”

The squad had been practicing every day for 3 hours in order to prepare for their debut showing at the first home football game on Sep. 5.

Reichard feels that the squad is ready but that they still need to work on some things — “we were thrown four dances at us all new that we’ve never done before.”

Ward agrees that even for those that came in with some knowledge and experience working together, this year is a whole different mindset.

“Everything is starting from scratch. We’re getting new uniforms, we got new pompoms, we have a new coach, we have new dances. It’s going to be a big difference from anything that anyone has known of the cheerleaders,” said Ward.

Sumner said the biggest noticeable difference will be an increase in the level of difficulty for the stunts and tumblers.

“We just want to up the ante a little bit and just throw some things that everyone can really ooh and ahh at.”

According to the women on the team, it’s not all about the pompoms and smiles.

Candelaria explained, “it’s not just performing a skill, it’s also looking good doing the skill. It takes just as much energy and effort and teamwork as any other sport.”

All three women agreed that the hardest thing about cheer is that someone is always watching you and that you always have to be on your toes.

“In most other sports, you’re able to be taken out and no one is going to look at you; they’re only going to be looking at people in the field or on the court. With cheer, you’re always there, you’re always standing, someone’s always looking at you. You always have to be aware that everyone’s going to be watching you,” said Candelaria.

Sumner explained that the initial purpose of cheerleading is to be a spirit squad, to get everyone pumped and ready for their games — but it has become more than that.

“They have to be gymnasts, they have to be dancers, they have to be weightlifters. These girls and guys, their bodies really have to be on key just as much as any other athlete,” Sumner said.

Sumner plans to start bringing the team to exhibitions this year to prepare them for real competition.

“They will be performing, they will be getting judged but they will not be competing against anyone else at this time. I think it’s a good building block for the team to just get their feet wet and then really dive into our competition next year,” said Sumner.

Despite all the changes, Reichard is most excited to be making a new name for themselves this season.

Ward is excited for the squad’s new image as well.

“This is a growing year. This year, we might not make the leaps and bounds, but by next year we will be a full 20 steps ahead of where we are now,” Ward said. “Our team is fairly young, so it’s cool to see that we’re changing it and we actually get to be a part of the change.”