The Colgate Scene
September 2000
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Defining the spirit
by John D. Hubbard
Karen Hammerle '01, one of Colgate's finest athletes, won't score a goal, make a save or win a race this year.

     It is only when there is a lull in the action, a timeout or those jittery pre-game moments that Hammerle springs -- literally -- into action. A two-time captain of the cheerleading squad, her exploits aren't reflected in points or statistics but are told instead through "ohhs" and "ahhs" as she flies through the air or exhorts the crowd to get involved.

     "Cheerleading has become a huge part of my life. It's a big time commitment and a lot of work physically," said Hammerle during a break in preseason training.

     As August ended the cheerlead-ing squad held triple sessions to work with representatives of the Universal Cheerleader Association. Coached by Jill Strand, the cheerleaders were perfecting new material, choreographing a dance for the "Fight Song" and freshening up routines for football season.

     Once the games begin, the cheerleaders practice five days a week, two hours at a clip, and meet well before kickoff to rehearse once more before the crowd arrives.

     Hammerle's duties as captain include both a leadership role and administrative duties. She calls out cheers, leads off the stunts and "keeps things organized" during games. She also meets with Strand to pick material and choose the best combination of squad members, has a voice in uniform selections and helps plan trips. A molecular biology major, she has learned time management in the process, too.

     With all she does, Hammerle will be remembered most for her flying. For sporting thrills, her back tuck basket tosses, high splits and extension cradles rank right up there with Randall Joseph's touchdown scampers and Pat Campolito's power moves to the hoop.

     The routines can seem hair-raising, but Hammerle is comfortable being flung into the air. "Jill concentrates on safety and we build up stunts slowly. We don't bring out anything in a game until it's flawless in practice a hundred times in a row."

     During breaks in the on-field action, the cheerleaders rush into position and Hammerle goes airborne, launched by either one, two or four teammates.

     "There's a huge amount of trust. Bases always keep their eyes on the flyer." All the better to catch Hammerle with, upon reentry. In addition to the stunts and dances, the cheerleaders lead cheers, drumming up support from the stands.

     Football and basketball games provide the cheerleaders with distinct stages and particular challenges. On the sideline at Andy Kerr Stadium, Hammerle and her teammates can rarely see the action on the field. Fans are more spread out, too, and of course, the weather is always a factor. Cotterell Court means the cheerleaders are much closer to the game and fans and the squad is usually the focus of attention during timeouts.

     The cheerleaders are part of the pre-game pageantry, too. They usher the team onto the field during the fall and are fixtures of the tailgate scene both home and away.

     "It's great to meet alumni. They are the people most excited to see us. They tell us what cheerleaders were like in their day and ask us to pose for pictures with them." She reported that students seem to respect the cheerleaders and find their work entertaining.

     Once the action starts, even though they are smiling, the cheerleaders are intently serious and they are well aware of what their rivals on the opposite sideline are doing.

     "We know who does the high basket toss or has more stunts in the air at once," said Hammerle.

     The cheerleaders remember standout performances, too.

     "We always talk about beating Bucknell in 1997" and dubbed football's first Patriot League championship "the coolest thing ever." The veterans on the squad also look back to last March and the basketball team's playoff game against the Midshipmen at Navy.

     "Navy always intimidates us, but that day we hit all of our stunts. We were looking great. Everything we practiced for so long was working. We were all excited."

     The excitement was tempered, of course, by the team's loss. Whatever the outcome, though, the cheerleaders carry on.

     "We put a smile on our faces and cheer to the very end," said Karen Hammerle, who may just have hit upon the perfect definition of the spirit that is Colgate.

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