Jessie Truitt, the head coach of the University of New Mexico Spirit program, has been working on tryouts to fill the dance team, the co-ed cheer team and the all-girl cheer team.
Over this past weekend, April 28 to 30, tryouts started. They included Spirit Squad veterans and rookies who made it through the video submission phase to compete to fill around 70 to 90 spots, Truitt said.
Truitt will also be looking for new people to fill the Lobo Lucy and Lobo Louie costumes on May 4 to 5 in the SUB.
“I like to say 'on the prowl' … to build a mascot team. I'm hoping to expand because, like our athletes, they're required to go to almost all of the sporting events. It's a different beast putting on a 10-pound fur suit (and) to be in there and in that long,” Truitt said.
Friday was an open mat session designed to get attendees more comfortable with each other while Saturday and Sunday served as evaluation days. Truitt said that an important part of the evaluation is mastering the school’s fight song.
“Rookies were all sent videos of learning the fight song,” Truitt said. “They had to do it in their video submission, but then we'll also do it in person to see if they've continued to practice and got better at it. Also to see how much they line up with the vets, to see if it's gonna be a seamless transition. We do it so many times, it's kind of a staple of our program.”
Dance team veteran Carmen Chavez said that the tryout experience is a nerve-racking but exciting start to the season. During tryouts her freshman year she said that she was not expecting to make the team.
“It was a miracle that I was accepted. I genuinely went in there just excited to experience a college tryout. Being given the opportunity to try out for a D-I spirit program was huge for me. I remember my interview. I was like, ‘If anyone wants to do it, it's me,’” Chavez said. “Thankfully my coaches saw potential in me, and it's been an absolute dream.”
Veterans of the Spirit Squad are not guaranteed spots and must go through the same tryout process as the rookies. Casey Howell, a member of the co-ed cheer team, said that she has had a long career proving herself as an important team member.
“I'm excited for this season,” Howell said. “I've been able to be on this team four going on five years now and I'm excited to step up and take a leadership position that I've been growing into for the past couple of years.”
Truitt said many of the boys on the co-ed team didn’t have much experience before the program because New Mexico’s high school cheer program is geared more toward an all-girl cheer squad. Maximus Gering, on the co-ed cheer team, approached his first tryouts with a more relaxed attitude than most.
“I walked in there so nonchalant because I was not a cheerleader … but it's the best decision I ever made. I love being part of cheer. I have made so many friends. I can do a backflip now,” Gering said.
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Talisa Soto Romero transferred to UNM and said that the community the Spirit Squad provided was a large selling point for the school.
“I had the opportunity to go to other schools, and when it came down to it I was like, ‘Where did I feel most at home? Where did I feel most comfortable with not knowing anyone?’” Romero said.
The 2022-23 season was Truitt’s first season as the Spirit Squad director. Truitt graduated from Bernalillo High School, cheered on the co-ed team at UNM and has served as the co-ed team coach. Truitt said that it was important for her to build community throughout the squad. The interview process during tryouts gives the coaches insight on how rookies will fit into the larger community.
“We wanna know how they speak and how they talk because we're also huge liaisons for the University. We are out in the community so much … so we have to know when we interview them. Are they going to represent the university in a positive manner? … And it does play into their overall score,” Truitt said.
The interview process requires members and rookies to answer questions about the University and the different sports programs to evaluate if they will be able to communicate with the community, which Romero said is beneficial for the rookies.
“I definitely felt like, as a rookie, it made me feel a little special that these coaches took their time out of the tryout to come speak to you and have that little interview,” Romero said.
Truitt believes that the tryout process is integral to maintaining the family-like atmosphere that the team has built. Part of building that family is ensuring that they all are committed to the University and its values.
“We've built a family here. And so the tryout process, we really have to hone in to make sure that that family stays the same,” Truitt said. “We're selecting people who enhance our family. We're selecting people who are really truly Lobo fans that will give it their all.”
Addison Key is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @addisonkey11