By: Noelle Chaney
Special to The Collegian
They have the best seats in the house at every Fresno State football game, but these ladies have earned their spots on the field.
Nearly two dozen incredibly spirited and highly devoted young women make up the spirit squad at Fresno State. You can find them cheering loud, flying high and smiling big at all of the Fresno State home games, but their drive and dedication doesn’t stop at the 50-yard line.
Head coach Emmi Jennings said the squad’s year begins in August and runs all the way through the end of March, sometimes into early April.
Jennings, a Fresno State alumna, runs multiple practices a week in addition to morning workouts to keep the girls on point.
“We have practices three times a week, morning workouts twice a week at 5 a.m.,” Jennings said. “Between practices, games and appearance commitments, the girls put in 15 to 20 hours a week.”
Jennings said the team is required to report to home football games four hours before kickoff and cheer the whole game, which can often mean a full day’s work. She said this year’s nail-biting, high-intensity Boise State game had the women on their feet for eight hours.
“It was absolutely insane, in a good way,” Jennings said. “Exhausting, but totally worth it.”
In addition to attending every home football and basketball game, Jennings said the team gets lots of requests throughout the community to make appearances. She said she requires the women to commit to at least three appearances a semester, and there are many opportunities to do so.
“Pictures with Santa Claus, ‘Greek Week,’ serving pizza during basketball season,” Jennings said. “We also get tons of requests from alumni and the Smittcamp house.”
Between weekly workouts, game days and appearances, Jennings said the girls have a lot on their plate. In addition to the spirit squad, she said many members are involved with other extracurricular activities, maintain a high GPA and work at separate jobs.
Veteran squad member Silvana Castaneda has been cheering at Fresno State for four years. Cheering for 10 years back in her hometown of Sanger, Castaneda said she was drawn to Fresno State not only for cheer, but also because of its great criminology program.
Castaneda maintains a 3.0 GPA and works close to 30 hours a week at AT&T, but she loves what she does.
“The fans here are so crazy and fun,” Castaneda said. “I love trying to get them on their feet to cheer on our team!”
Briana Gonzales is new to the spirit squad, but said she is quickly learning how hard it is to balance it all. Gonzales maintains a 3.6 GPA, works 20 hours at Cold Stone Creamery and volunteers with the nonprofit Joni and Friends in addition to her commitment to cheer.
“The hardest part is the time and energy commitment required,” Gonzales said. “I don’t think people realize the time or the amount of work we put in.”
Time doesn’t always equal money, and the spirit squad is no stranger to that. Jennings said funds for the squad come strictly from fundraising done by the team, so there is seldom money to spare.
“It is the biggest burden on my shoulders,” Jennings said. “I have to worry about the stress to make sure we make enough money here to order new uniforms. The girls want new pom-poms for basketball season and we can’t do that. Funding is huge.
“We recycled uniforms from last year for this year’s team.”
Jennings said one of the biggest fundraisers for the spirit team is its annual Spirit Day. She said this year’s Spirit Day will be Saturday, Nov. 23, and starts at 8 a.m. Jennings said there are 250 spots open to kids ages 7-15, where they will learn a routine and perform during halftime of that evening’s game.
For $25, she said each participant will receive a performance T-shirt and admission to the game that evening.
For registration information, check out www.gobulldogs.com, or email questions to Emmeline Jennings at firstname.lastname@example.org.