Pack your passport, uniforms and poms for the ladies…we’re about to take a trip to Dublin, Ireland for a behind-the-scenes game day tour with UCF Cheer!
But first, let me introduce myself. My name is Pete Garcia and I’m a senior at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL. I’m also a member of UCA Staff and have gotten to travel all over the country to work with talented, dedicated cheerleaders such as yourself! I am originally from Colorado Springs, CO and chose to be a cheerleader after years of competition in gymnastics and diving. However, competition isn’t the only interest of mine; I also love the feeling of cheering on my team in front of roaring crowds! I’m about to share with you some of the unique experiences of a college cheerleader and give you an inside look at my team’s trip to Ireland!
Preparing for the Big Game
You might be wondering how we coordinate the many things that go on during a game. College football games are full of energy, noise and plenty of entertainment, so it can be easy to get lost in all of the action. Luckily, our head coach Linda Gooch is in her 30th year of running the UCF Spirit Program, and she knows college game day like the back of her hand.
We thoroughly rehearse each element of game day to make sure we hit the crowds confidently when our time comes. Our UCF Marching Knights, KnightMoves dancers and our mascot “Knightro” also play a huge part in keeping the audience entertained, so we have a great relationship with all of them.
Pep Rallies & Appearances
At UCF, our fans love to cheer along with us. They participate in spreading school spirit by taking part in traditions we’ve made like the UCF arm spell out, our Black and Gold chant and following every “Go Knights” with an enthusiastic “Charge On!” At our game in Dublin, we saw fans walking and touring the city in the days leading up to the big game. No matter where we found them, they’d always give us a holler and get the whole street pumped up.
At pep rallies, we alternate between traditional cheers and entertaining the crowd with band dances or quick stunts. Afterwards, we always take time to mingle with the fans to thank them for coming, take pictures and share our excitement about the upcoming game.
As the day moves on, we head over to the stadium early so we can get set up and warm up all of our stunts, pyramids and basket tosses. We take part in the pregame ceremony by running UCF flags and performing when our band plays the fight song. After the National Anthem, we get introduced to the crowd as the UCF Cheerleaders and then head to the tunnel where our players run out.
The run out is always my favorite part of the game. After our video screens play an amazing hype video, and our fans yell “U-C-F Knights!” to the beat of the song Zombie Nation, we grab our UCF flags and game partners and anxiously await the team. Once we see the team round the corner from their locker room, we turn and sprint ahead of them down the field while our fans roar and stomp their feet in the stands!
In the Croke Park Classic this past weekend, we faced the Penn State Nittany Lions. Many Irish locals attended the game to see first game of American football. As we ran out our Knights, they joined with our fans and yelled like we were the home team! But what really made this run on special were the jet planes that flew over the stadium right as we were about to take off down the field. What a start to my final season as a UCF cheerleader!
After getting crowd pumped up and ready to go, we head back to our sideline to put up stunts for kickoff. As the kicker sets the ball for the first play, our ladies shake their poms and we all join in yelling “AAAAAHHHHHH!” Once the ball is kicked, our crowd shouts “U-C-F Knights!”
At this point we shift into gear, either making as much noise as possible for our defense or tossing up rippled stunts or pyramids between offensive plays. Our girls lift large signs that read Yell, Noise or Stand Up; these are a huge help in getting our crowd involved. Between quarters we head over to the end zone and throw baskets to entertain our student section. We even put our mascot in a pyramid to get some pretty awesome pictures.
Many college football games are televised on major sports networks, so we’re always aware of our surroundings during a game in case we’re needed in a close up shot on the big screen. There’s nothing cooler than seeing snapshots of yourself on TV, yelling your heart out for the team you love!
At home games we have our entire cheer team on the field and have a very detailed plan for every time out, break and touchdown. However, for away games we only take a few sets of stunt partners. We were lucky to bring seven of our more experienced and academically sound couples to Ireland. All 14 of us had to play an important part in game pyramids and stunts.
The Final Push
As the end of the game nears and tensions rise, we have to turn it up for our Knights and get our crowd to shake the whole stadium! In our game against Penn State, we were so closely matched the entire game that we had no idea who would come out on top! In the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, we took every second between plays to get the crowd energized and keep up the support for our players.
We had been behind since the first quarter, but on fourth down with one minute remaining in the game, our offense made a pass that secured our chance for another score! Our fans went WILD as we threw stunts in the air and banged our megaphones with excitement! The speakers blared with our announcer yelling, “That’s good for another UCF…” with the fans joining in and shouting, “FIRST DOWN!” We led our fans in chanting, “UCF! UCF! UCF!” as our kicker made the field goal that brought us one point ahead of Penn State.
As the seconds ticked down toward zero, the tension in the stadium was unbearable. Unfortunately for us, the Nittany Lions made it down the field and successfully kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired. The Penn State fans erupted, celebrating their narrow victory. The final score was 24-26. We all were in disbelief at the jaw-dropping end to our game.
We may not have come out on top in our season debut in Ireland, but our team played a fiercely competitive game and we had a blast cheering them on! At the end of our games, our players head to the end zone to thank the fans for their support. We then link arms around each other, swaying and swinging as the band plays our alma mater loud and proud.
Win or lose, every part of UCF game day is a thrilling experience. Some games are more memorable than others, but the takeaway always holds true: belonging to a historic university and bringing the youngest newcomers together with the most devoted alumni is a feeling that cannot be replicated.
Thanks for joining me on a tour through UCF game day! I’ll be posting more about my UCF and UCA experiences throughout the year using my Twitter handle @UCAPete, so give me a follow if you’re interested. You can find me on the sidelines this fall, but before my next game I have some schoolwork and practice to get back to. Until then, Go Knights and Charge On!
cover photo by: Chris Schubert