The cheerleaders chant “Go blue! Go red!” between each clap. The men raise the megaphones to their mouths drowning out the voices of the women that surround them. Their voices echo through the Physical Activities Center and can be heard over Red Zone’s student section and the cheering fans.
They stand at the edge of the basketball court, as close as possible without being pushed away by the referee, and cheer the team towards victory against Ohio Dominican University. Every time-out called gives the cheer team an opportunity to show the crowd a smidgeon of their athletic ability.
Being on the sidelines is a change for three of the male cheerleaders because the first half of their semesters were spent as starters for USI’s Rugby Team. George Bristow, Tyler Pipes and Justin Mizen double up as cheerleaders and rugby players.
“I encourage each of them to do as many different things in college,” rugby coach Kurt Murrel said. “Each of them bring something to both teams, their different strengths give the ability to do both sports. A large part of college is about diversity and each of these kids are dipping into it.”
Sophomore George Bristow jogs onto the court alongside his freshman stunting partner, and girlfriend Devan Brady. She stands in front of him, he places his hands on her hips and without hesitation hoists her into the air. She lands in the palms of his hands.
With his arms tucked to his abdomen, he rolls his weight to the heels of his feet before he catches her, and places his hands back on her hips. Brady and George became stunting partners in the spring semester when Brady started practicing with the cheer team.
“We were terrible when we first started stunting together,” Brady said. “We have gotten so much better over time and I trust him a lot more now. We work well as a team and practice a lot in our free time. He’s a really good cheerleader.”
Bristow cheered since his senior year in high school but has played rugby since middle school.
“In seventh grade, I started playing because I had a real interest in the sport,” Bristow said. “I played through my high school years and ended up winning the D1 national title for high school rugby.”
Bristow applied to USI because it has a rugby team. When he became part of the rugby team his freshman year he played two different positions, the flanker and the 8 man forward. When approached by a member of the cheer team to try out, he jumped at the opportunity.
Bristow became the first of the three rugby players to try out for the cheer team. He started to recruit his fellow rugby players to join the team.
“At first all the rugby players called me a sissy and gay, but I would just do a backflip to shut them up,” Bristow said.
Sophomore Justin Mizen’s apartment is packed.
He sits on the right side of the couch with two men to the left of him. They pass a hookah hose back and forth to each other. A man to the left of them sits in a chair talking and occasionally glancing at the TV, while the sound of video games can be heard from the other room.
This is not a new concept for Mizen’s apartment. His rugby teammates are always around.
“The people that are on the rugby team are my best friends and some of the coolest people I have ever met,” Mizen said. “It’s pretty awesome to hang out with people who don’t judge anybody.”
Mizen played rugby since his junior year of high school. His starting position this year was the scrum-half, which means he directs the team’s plays and is a passer. Directing plays isn’t his only contribution to the team. Mizen is a jokester.
“Justin is an easy going spirit and brings humor to the team,” rugby teammate Doug Rose said. “If we’re having a hard time or the coach is getting on us, he always brings us back.”
Mizen’s easy-going spirit is translated to the cheer team as well.
He joined the cheer team after harrassment by Bristow for weeks. He was hesitant at first but finally gave in to the constant nagging.
“I think he was hesitant because of the stigma that all male cheerleaders are gay,” Bristow said. “But once he finally went, I think he was hooked right away.”
Mizen was hooked. He realized the amount of athleticism involved in cheerleading and decided to stick with the sport.
Junior Tyler Pipes slouches in a chair with his feet propped up on the arm. He talks to his rugby teammates. They wait for a meeting with the coach to start, and two players have not arrived yet.
Pipes pulls out his cell phone and calls one of them.
“Where are you guys?” Pipes asked. Silence follows as he listens to the person on the other end of the phone.
“Don’t lie to me, I’m looking at the door you’re not walking in right now,” he said and hung up the phone. Thirty seconds later the two men walk in the door. “Oh shit, I guess they weren’t kidding.”
Pipes and Mizen lead the rugby team. Together they make sure everything runs smoothly.
“Pipes is always making sure everyone are at practice and show up to the meeting,” teammate and The Shield staff writer Roberto Campos said. “He keeps us all in check.”
Pipes, like Mizen hesitated to join the cheer team when approached by Bristow.
“I had given them both a hard time about being on the team,” Pipes said. “I had called them ‘queerleaders’ and had this idea that everyone who cheered was gay. Even after going to my first practice I wasn’t completely sold and stayed away for a couple weeks.”
After the nagging from the other two cheerleading rugby players Pipes finally decided to give it another shot and started attending practices regularly. Last year Pipes was just a sit in, meaning he didn’t compete, but this year his feet are hitting the blue carpet with the team.
Pipes, along with the other two men, were beginners when they started cheering. Now they are throwing the women into the air and catching them like they have been doing it their whole lives, cheer teammate Tawne Bucher said.
“When they first showed up the team didn’t get too close to them because we didn’t expect them to last long,” Bucher said. “We soon realized they were in it for the long haul. Tyler and Justin were the fastest learners I’ve ever seen. They are doing stunts that it takes people years and years of practice to perfect.”