Fitchburg State Cheerleading Unable to Practice Due to Pandemic


The 2018-2019 Fitchburg State Cheerleading Team pose at a local competition before taking the mat. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Monsalve.

-Jordan Costa

Fitchburg State University has faced many challenges this year trying to keep campus life as normal as possible while also navigating through a worldwide pandemic. Student life has been significantly impacted by the limitations of events and gatherings, including various sports and clubs. With case numbers on the rise, Student Affairs had to make the difficult decision to cut the cheerleading season short in the fall of 2020. 

Unable to hold physical face to face tryouts, the Fitchburg State Cheerleading team relied on virtual submissions to build their team for the 2020-2021 season. When a team was selected from the video submissions, practices were determined by the coaching and E- board staff of the team. Nicholas Monsalve, President and senior member of the cheerleading team, explains that the team was unaware of any cancellations of clubs and activities prior to August. The team was holding optional practices with The Office of Student Development and the Fitchburg State Campus Police both aware of the team’s safe gatherings.

“We as a program were following state guidelines that were put out by the governor which included socially distancing and masks. OSD and University Police were aware of these practices that occurred at Coolidge Field. They were optional practices that were not official in-season practices due to the fact that clubs are not operational during summer break.”

With the Athletics department calling off all games for the fall season, the cheerleaders shifted their gears and began to prepare for a hopeful competition season rather than cheering on the sidelines of the football games. Keeping up stamina by conditioning was really the only option and way to practice since working on more contact-based skills such as stunting was not allowed at the time due to the break-in social distancing those skills would require. 

 “Our focus over the summer was staying in shape, making connections with each other, and starting to think about the upcoming season. We were really focused on keeping our athletes safe, and we’re strict about social distancing.” Coach Simahk explained. 

Simahk says that although the school was transparent about the club sports being suspended immediately and until further notice, there was not a lot of explanation of what the team could do to help the situation they were in. The instructors offered to do any kind of training that would be necessary to hold even a limited kind of practice and would even pay for it out of their own pockets if that is what it would take to keep the program running during these unprecedented times however, it was deemed insufficient. 

“It sounded like this was a blanket decision made for all club sports, which of course is frustrating as a coach of a nationally ranked program, but we understand that safety is our top priority always.”

Not only did Fitchburg State allow many of their fall athletes to hold practices, but Simahk who is well versed in the competitive and collegiate cheerleading world knows of other college cheerleading teams that are able to follow guidelines and hold safe practices at this time. 

Nicholas Monsalve shares the email he received from Laura Bayless on October 14, 2020, that ultimately suspended the cheerleading team due to the coaching staff not being categorized as University employees, which meant that therefore they would be unfit to hold safe practices. 

“After consulting with President Lapidus, it has been determined that Fitchburg State is not ready for our sports clubs, including Cheer, to resume practices in the COVID environment at this time.

You may be curious as to why our student-athletes are able to practice but sports clubs are not. It is because the athletic team coaches are employees hired to coach by the university, while sports clubs coaches and advisors are not university employees in the same way. This increases the risk in terms of our ability to ensure safe practice environments.”

Monsalve expressed his frustration when explaining that the message was not only vague but it was unfair that the team was unable to hold practices while the coaching staff and team members were willing to comply with any rules, restrictions that may have been put into place. Overall, Monsalve believes that nothing the team or the coaching staff could have done or said would have changed the school’s mind. 

The Fitchburg State Cheerleading team is categorized as a “club sport” so they do not follow the rules and regulations created by the school in regards to the sports teams. Vice president of Student Affairs, Laura Bayless, says that all clubs and sports clubs have been canceled since March of 2020. Monsalve says that there was no email communication of this from Student Affairs, Student Development, or any of OSD staff hence why the practices were held and general guidelines were followed that were directed by Governor Charlie Baker at the time. 

“Some of our Division III athletics teams were allowed to practice in the fall, but not sports clubs. Cheerleading is a sports club at Fitchburg State.” Laura Bayless stated. 

New information has not been shared with the coaches or the cheerleading team since August. 

Laura Bayless shared that some of the athletic programs will be starting limited practices in early February but there is still no word on when cheerleading and any other sports clubs can begin holding practices again.

“Sports clubs are still not allowed to practice or compete. A limited number of Division III sports will be starting strength and conditioning training the week of February 8.”

Coach Simhak believes that there will be long term effects to this gap in the program. The team that is built on momentum will have many challenges to face when returning to the mat. Nicholas Monsalve also believes that this gap in the program will have some negative long term effects.

“The elite skills that we train to perform in cheerleading are not something that can go unworked for such a long period of time. As for recruitment purposes if we are not operating future students might not be able to recognize our program and attend the university. With less athletes in attendance, it is hard to grow the program without any publicity.”

Teams in years past have put a lot of work to make the program so strong, but the seniors this season no longer have the opportunity to make their mark before they graduate.

Coach Simahk who also teaches high school says that she has seen the toll that remote learning is having on young people right now. Connections with others are lacking more than ever and athletics for many is an outlet away from the stress that comes along with being a student.

“As coaches, we completely understand the desire to keep students and athletes safe. We just wish we were given a chance to prove that we could have practices and maintain safety. I only wish that we were able to provide an environment where our athletes would be able to interact with each other and to do what they love.”

The sudden halt to the cheerleading season is keeping the student-athletes safe during these unprecedented times. The situation has been difficult for many of the members on the team that really look forward to not only the sport itself but the friendships and community the team creates for them. The tightly knit bond that this team shares will no doubt make it through these difficult times as they will work to repatch the gaps from this season when they are able to safely practice again.

The writer of this article, Jordan Costa, is a member of the Fitchburg State Cheerleading Team.