Tumbling, stunting and dancing, cheerleading is the athletic and exciting sport that brings joy to everyone who watch. Shows like Cheer have opened the door for people to see the true grit and determination behind the sport. However, the HBCU cheerleading experience is a special experience that honors Blackness in all of its forms. Nyla Jones, a senior accounting major and co-captain of the North Carolina A&T Cheer Team, shares her thoughts on the HBCU cheer experience as a Black woman.
For Jones, cheerleading has been a passion for her since high school.
“I started cheering 8 years ago when I was a freshman in high school. Before that I competed in competitive gymnastics,” Jones said. “Cheerleading is a true passion of mine because I have learned so many great lessons, always had amazing teammates and coaches, and it allows me to always stay in shape.”
Surrounding herself in Black culture and sportsmanship as a Black woman, cheerleading at a HBCU for Jones was an incredible experience despite a tight schedule.
“My daily routine consists of going to school, work, and then practice or a game. Usually I get up around nine am and then go to class…After that I’ll either tutor a student in accounting or volunteer in the Beta Alpha Psi room,” Jones said.
“…I’ll go home and get ready for practice at 5:30 and get home around 8:15. After that I’ll try to eat dinner, do some school work and chill with my roommates. I end up going to sleep and repeating the same routine anywhere from midnight until 2 pm,” Jones said.
Cheerleading has gained popularity through social media and programs like Cheer. While Jones and the teams featured on the series compete in different areas, they both go through the trials and tribulations cheer can bring.
“Personally, I like the Netflix series Cheer. Although they compete in a much tougher competition, we as a team go through the same things they do,” Jones said.
“You won’t hit every practice and sometimes cheer can be really rough. You spend hours practicing for a two min and 15 second routine so you have to give it everything you got,” Jones said.
While they both have cheerleading programs that are widely popular, cheerleading at HBCUs compared to PWIs are a completely different experience.
“From A&T my senior year, I do believe that A&T receives support from its students and fans. In the past, however, that was not always a thing…” Jones said. “Compared to PWIs, HBCU cheer is just a different culture and experience altogether. It’s honestly like trying to compare apples with oranges…They’re both fruit, but they don’t come from the same tree,” Jones said.
Nevertheless, Jones’ cheerleading experience was one of a kind by going to an HBCU. She encourages other Black cheerleaders to follow in her footsteps.
“I encourage all Black cheerleaders to try and go to a HBCU. You will be appreciated, adored, and surrounded by people who have similar interests and goals, as well as similar struggles you may face,” Jones said. “Your natural hair and beauty will be accepted and you will create friendships that last lifetimes.”