SP Sports Weekly: Cheering in the pandemic with no fans, no events and no games

The pandemic has taken away not just sports games, but also the various community events the cheer team attends

Sports editors Koki Riley and Alex Coil sit down with sports reporter Nick Pietrzycki to discuss his story on ASU's cheer team and the changes it has had to make during the pandemic. The team is not only missing out on basketball and football games, but also various charity events they organize for the community.

Read more: With no spectators at games, ASU's cheerleaders look ahead to next year


ALEX COIL: 

Hello everyone and welcome back to SP Sports Weekly, your weekly roundup of State Press sports content alongside Koki Riley, I'm Alex Coil, and we're the sports editors at The State Press. 

KOKI RILEY: 

Joining us on the show now is State Press staff sportswriter, Nicholas Pietrzycki to talk about his latest piece on what ASU’s cheerleading team has been doing during the pandemic. Thank you so much for joining us today, Nick. 

NICK PIERTZYCKI:

Yeah. Thank you for having me, and I just gotta say, not the worst pronunciation of my last name I've ever heard. I've heard a lot of worse butchers, close enough, but so we'll go with that. And if anyone wants to know more about how to pronounce my last name, feel free to text me! 

KOKI RILEY:

With that said, just to start things off, what about the story interested you? 

NICK PIERTZYCKI:

What first really got me into the story and made me really want to get deeper was I never knew that, you know, ASU’s spirit squad and their cheer and dance team did so many different events throughout the year, the required 10 events per semester and it could, you know range from one event they've done was, you know, cheer in nursing homes; one event during Christmas called Fantasy Flight, it's a big one for them. And that's what really got me into this story first was hearing that and seeing what they do in the community and throughout that, and then just obviously getting deeper into the story and the story evolving once the Pac-12 decided that they finally wanted to come back with football, which was good, and then that threw a whole another wrench into it. But I think it worked out and Coach Carol and the couple of girls, Draya, I know I interviewed, Alexandra, I interviewed another one, they're all great. They all were willing to get interviewed again once, you know, kind of the story changed, and it was really easy to run really, really easy to write, I should say really fun to write and yeah, that's basically it. 

ALEX COIL:

So, the, the really interesting thing, kind of subplot in this, in addition to what you just mentioned, that they have a lot of activities throughout the year, but that they're not going to be able to cheer in person during football games. You know, they're still practicing some, on some certain days, a week, in person, but the Pac-12 is not allowing them in the stadium during game days. What was the kind of reaction with that amongst the people that you talk to? And when you reached out to the Pac-12, what did they say? What was their reasoning behind that?

NICK PIERTZYCKI: 

So, yeah, I'll start with the team. And you know, some people may have read that and said, if they can't, you know, cheer games, why are they practicing? So obviously they want to stay ready. So, when you don't know if your season's in jeopardy or whatnot, you still try to practice. A lot of guys in the NFL were probably still practicing at their home. Then luckily, eventually they were able to get back together. They're practicing on Zoom first and now they're practicing, you know, wherever they can in person, which is good. 

They're obviously disappointed because football is the biggest sport that they're known for cheering at. You know, it's at Sun Devil stadium, it's at the basketball game, which hopefully they still may be able to do. I'm not sure if they'll be able to do it or not, but we'll see. And then the Pac-12’s reaction to it and when I contacted the Pac-12, what they said was they basically wanted to cut out, to put it shortly, they wanted to cut out any superfluous attendance to make sure less chance of anyone getting COVID. So that was basically, they put it more eloquently and the full quote is in the story, but, to shorten it up, the more people at stadium, the more risks the players have of getting COVID and then it spreads and that's our number one goal right now, not spreading COVID-19 and protecting everyone that they can and still managing to get in a solid Pac-12 season.

KOKI RILEY: 

So, what kind of tone did Coach Carol, and just for context, she is the cheerleading coach, possess? What kind of tone did she have when talking about her team's inability to be at games or events this season?

NICK PIERTZYCKI: 

She actually had a very, what I was surprised that she had a very optimistic tone. It was we're eventually going to get back to this. We'll eventually get back to cheering at games, whether it's football, basketball, volleyball, whatever sport, she said there, eventually we will be back to it and we'll be ready. The team will be ready. We're practicing. We'll be ready. And the players had a very similar approach that eventually they're going to get back. Eventually they're going to get back to a scheduled sporting events eventually, whether or not it's in the future, the 20, 2021 or 2022 season. Or if it's with basketball, this upcoming season, they're gonna get back, and they're excited to get back because they love doing it. They love cheering. They love dancing. They love performing. And a lot of the girls, they've danced or cheered since they were young. It’s what they love to do. So, they know they'll be back and they're excited for when they will be back. 

ALEX COIL:

Now speaking of when will they be back as it stands now, what is the date that everybody's looking at? Is it January 1st, 2021, that they can come back? Could they be optimistic for a basketball season? The way it is officially now, when is the soonest they can come back?

NICK PIERTZYCKI:

The soonest they said they can come back from the information that I've gathered from, you know, from interviewing Coach Carol and a couple of the members of the spirit squad, from emailing some people at the Pac- 12. 

Right now, everything in the year 2020, unfortunately they can't get back so early basketball season may not be a question, but in 2021, I think they're going to reconsider they’ll maybe look at it. Even late December, once the football season is over, they're probably going to reconsider a lot of it. Especially with basketball, where you have less people, on a basketball team, you have a max of 15 players. You probably have, maybe 10 coaches on each sideline you're at about 50 players with referees and other stuff. With football there's that many people on one sideline, you know, and you got almost double the amount of people. So maybe the Pac-12 will be able to say, you guys can come back since there's less people. 

I don't know, I'm not an expert. I don't claim to be one. I don't want to be a medical expert. I leave that to other people and I just follow the guidelines and, you know, and so does the team and they hope that eventually they will be able to cheer, and I think in the future they will be. But how soon? I don't know. But I think if you're looking for an exact date it's around that early January, probably I would say the earliest you'll get an official statement from what I suspect and from what the information I gathered.

KOKI RILEY:

What has their practice schedule sort of looked like since, since the start of the pandemic, really? What have they been doing, especially more recently? Like what have they been doing to kind of stay on their toes while they can't go to any events or any games?

NICK PIERTZYCKI:

When the pandemic was very, in the beginning, when it started, it was very difficult because you couldn't do anything in person and all practices from basically from that day in mid-March on until about Sept. 28, I believe was the date they could start practicing, it was all Zoom. It was all via Zoom. Tryouts even were via Zoom, to get new members and Coach Carol said it was actually kind of a blessing in disguise that they were able to do it over Zoom, more people were able to try out that didn't live in Arizona or didn't have the ability to fly out to Arizona previously. She said we were able to get more people trying out, which was really awesome. 

And then as of more recently, now, Sept. 28, they are practicing three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Monday and I believe Friday, I just want to double check myself here. I believe that they are still, that they are in person. One day they do it all together, they do the whole spirit squad Monday and then Friday, they go individually. So, you'll have cheerleading and the dance team working on their various routines and activities and then Wednesdays will be via Zoom. And yes, I just double-checked Monday and Fridays are in person. Wednesdays are via Zoom still. So not fully back to all in person practices, but they're getting there. Two practices in person is better than none. You're able to, you know, physically see your teammates, see your friends, see your coach and get instruction in person that you may have not gotten in over Zoom.

ALEX COIL:

I kind of want to go back to the decision the Pac-12 made to not let cheerleaders, spirit squads, pep bands, marching bands in the stadium. Cause you know, when you think college football, you think of those aspects as well, that kind of make the environment, even the viewership of, of games. You know, you're sitting there and watching a football game, you hear the band constantly playing between plays. The interesting thing that I want to know more of, what was the distinction that the Pac-12 made or was there one between a normal fan and those other groups that are actually participating in the event, that is the game?

NICK PIERTZYCKI:

It's definitely a gray area because you see in some conferences, you know, fans being let in or a good friend of mine goes to Notre Dame. He's been at every single game, you know, just as a common student fan. I don't want to get obviously too into it, but just a summary is that the Pac-12’s CEO group wanted to reduce the amount of people in the stadium stands and sidelines, and obviously the spirit squad, the cheerleaders they're on the sidelines, not in that, you know, the 20 to 25 box that the team is there, outside that, but I believe that's still considered the sidelines and they wanted to do that in the interest of health and safety and being able to get the season back up because, when you think of college, and you're absolutely right, you think of band, you think of the fight song every time a touchdown score. You think of the band at halftime. You think of all those fun things and without them it's going to be weird, but I believe their decision ultimately came down to what they felt was the safest and healthiest decision for their student athletes and for their coaches.

KOKI RILEY:

You mentioned that the top, just a few of the events that they participated in off the field and now with the pandemic, of course, they certainly can't do those events either. So, what were a few of just talking to the, talking to the cheerers, talking to the cheer coach, what were a few of their favorite events?

NICK PIERTZYCKI:

I previously mentioned that Fantasy Flight is one of the team's favorites. So, what they, a hundred underprivileged kids are taken on a flight to the North Pole. They take off from Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. They don't actually fly to a specific location. They're not flying over the North pole, they just may kind of a couple of rounds around the airport. They get up, they get down, they give the kids the feeling and, a lot of them, that is their first flight on an airplane. You know, not a lot of kids have probably flown, you don't even see a lot of kids just in general flight. You see a lot, you know, older, you know, businessmen and older, you know, college students like us probably flying home for break a lot. So that's one of their favorites. They get to do activities, you know, it's all, it's Christmas-themed. Everyone's happy. Everyone's joyful. That's one of their favorites to do that what I gathered. 

Another one of their favorites that they've done is an event in collaboration with Foster Arizona. I don't know if I mentioned it in my story or not, but they did a women's empowering event there with a lot of the orphan girls that were around that 12, 13, 14 age that maybe hadn't been adopted yet and they’re there talk to them, give them advice, you know, and learn what it's like to be there and try to help them too, as much as they can could. They said that event, it turned into a very serious event in, you know, in women empowering and then all of a sudden, one of their cheerleaders starts essentially deejaying and it turned into a dance party. So, it took a pretty hard left turn and they loved every second of it. 

And some more not team like large group events, but smaller ones. I know that a couple of girls were able to get to go to the American Adidas headquarters and be there for the day. A lot of them loved that, being ASU is an Adidas school there, so they're able to go there, see some of this stuff there, tour. They said it was really awesome and then they got to cheer there for the day, they're in near the doorway kind of saying like welcome to Adidas, you know, kind of that stuff. 

And the last one that kind of hit home closest for me personally, was they did an event with a nursing home. They didn't specify what nursing home, because they've done it with multiple, but the cheerleaders go to nursing home, they teach the residents to cheer, get them up and going, get them excited. And my grandma's in, was in a nursing home for about five years, before she eventually passed away. And she, every time there was an event, she loved it you know. Seeing cheerleaders at a nursing home, you don't see it every day and it gets the residents excited, and it makes their day. It really does. And you know, one of the, I believe it was Alexandra Shaw, I believe she is the junior. She said it was really good doing all these events because you really see the impact you have on these people. And then it really makes you be thankful for what you have and the opportunities you've been given in life. And she said, just knowing that it makes the events and knowing that all the more special to her and to the whole team in general.

KOKI RILEY:

Nick, we want to thank you so much for joining us on the show this week to talk about your very unique story. So, thank you so much again.

NICK PIERTZYCKI:

Anytime, anytime.

ALEX COIL:

Thank you all for listening to SP Sports Weekly. For more State Press content, visit statepress.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, @State Press and @statepresssport. See you all next week for the next episode of SP Sports Weekly.


Reach the reporters at ancoil@asu.edu and kbriley@asu.edu and follow @anc2018 and @KokiRiley on Twitter.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


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