Inside the long empty hallways of the Yuengling Center on Thursday evenings, a group of 32 women prepare for football games.
The USF all-girl cheerleading team fine-tunes its routine in its new training location. Due to COVID-19, the team has moved inside the Yuengling Center for its practices.
They once practiced inside the Corral, but that facility is home to the USF volleyball team, which is in its preseason and now occupies the space.
In addition to new practice routines, game days have also changed for the cheerleaders. They once stood on the field with the football team, but they’ve been moved right below the jumbotron at Raymond James Stadium near entry ramp D.
For the team, it’s an entirely unconventional experience.
“It’s definitely different because we’re not on the sidelines with them [USF football team],” Sandy Clarke, all-girl coach, said. “We’ve done a lot of stuff virtually. Like the first football game where we were here, we filmed all of our traditions virtually.”
Because the cheerleaders are not allowed on the field, they’ve had to record their traditions, which are the performances done during timeouts and halftime, and routines before the first home game.
All routines were shot at Corbett Soccer Stadium a week before the game against The Citadel.
Clarke said the team records a lot of the team’s footage for critiquing purposes, so recording it was customary. Virtual routines were only done for the first home game when fans were not allowed.
The cheerleaders have done their routines live at the past two home games, and their routines were broadcast on the jumbotron for the fans and football team to see while the camera periodically switched over to the all-girl team throughout the games.
It may not look the same on the surface, but there are silver linings to the new routine.
Some cheerleaders are looking at the changes with a positive outlook. Alyssa Moore, a senior majoring in biological health sciences, enjoys the new seating arrangements for games.
“It’s kinda been cool ‘cause we see a part of Ray Jay that we’ve never seen before,” Moore said. “I personally think that, like, we can connect with fans more this way. We’re right where they are, so we kinda get to see what they get to see. We get to watch the game from a different perspective, and we get to kinda like interact with them more as they walk around.”
Other changes to the season included having virtual tryouts for the team. This led to a longer search process for Clarke.
“Our virtual tryout started in May,” Clarke said. “And then that virtual tryout was an extended period of time of once we got down to finalists — we virtually trained them on all the traditions and all the things that they would need to know to actually do game day.”
Under normal circumstances, Clarke has her cheerleaders selected in May. The team had its final tryouts the first week of school and had to trim the roster from the 47 finalists to the current 32 members.
Freshmen cheerleaders came into this season with uncertainty. Tryouts were held virtually, the season was in limbo, and they were not allowed to be around each other during the summer.
Veterans like Moore and third-year cheerleader Sayler Cristello did everything they could to help smooth out the process for the new cheerleaders.
“Some of them were worried, and they weren’t sure where exactly they were going to fit in,” Cristello said. “But luckily, we have bigs and littles, so we were able to help them and like mentor them to what they’re doing. If they ever needed help, we reached out to them, and they reached out to us.”
The transition hasn’t been easy for the team and coaches, but the athletic department made it as straightforward as possible, and deserves credit for that, Clarke said.
“They were awesome,” she said. “We would always have like weekly check-ins with different departments, and they were awesome at keeping us updated on whatever they knew. If they knew it — then we knew it, and we would adapt and tell our kids the next phase for our finalists.”