Though cheerleading has become increasingly accessible to athletes of all gender identities, sophomore cheerleader Craig Caudill says that the University of Richmond has some catching up to do.
Caudill, as well as Head Coach Cynthia McMillan, said the perception of the sport hasn’t evolved to the extent of other universities, with the team being overwhelmingly female-dominated in recent years. Besides Caudill, there has not been a man in Spider Cheer since 2016.
This year, Caudill is the Spiders’ only male cheerleader. Caudill hails from Haymarket, Virginia, and is a leadership studies major with minors in American studies and chemistry. He is also a Bonner Scholar.
Before coming to UR, Caudill had never cheered, but had years of practice with competitive taekwondo, which gave him a foundation of strength, flexibility and agility, he said. He also participated in national competitions on the weekends.
“I would train three hours after school every day from when I was four to when I was 12,” he said. “That’s where I got a lot of my flexibility and tumbling skills.”
Caudill also taught himself how to tumble on a trampoline in his backyard.
Upon arriving at UR, Caudill found himself dissatisfied with the lack of school spirit and quickly became interested in the school’s cheer program. Fellow cheerleader Shea Baker introduced Caudill to the coach and encouraged him to try out for the team, Caudill said.
“I brought him over to my coach and said, ‘Coach, look, he can jump,’ and he did jumps for the coach, and she said, ‘You’ve got to try out,’” Baker said.
Two days before tryouts, Caudill psyched himself up and went for it.
“I really like how much new stuff we get to learn,” Caudill said. “[There’s] always new things, and the team hasn’t had a guy for a while.”
Baker and her teammates were thrilled at the prospect of having a male teammate.
“When he made the team, we were all so excited,” Baker said.
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Caudill plays several roles on the team, functioning as a base, backspot and tumbler. His versatility has allowed the team to develop their more complex stunts, both he and McMillan said.
The team is now practicing new formations, including “one-man sets,” in which cheerleaders lift another cheerleader in position above their shoulders, McMillan said.
Now, the team is learning skills that are new to everyone, Caudill said.
"It’s really cool because we’re learning stuff together and developing the team,” he said.
“Anytime we hit a stunt… we get so excited.”
McMillan is excited about the opportunities on the horizon for the UR Spiders, as Caudill and the team continue to develop these stunts, she said.
“It’s helped us build a more exciting, more eye-catching [routine],” she said. “He’s given us that ‘wow’ factor.”
Though cheerleading at UR has generally been seen as a female-dominated sport for the last few decades, that wasn’t always the case. At one point in UR history, cheerleading was a male-only sport.
The Collegian published an op-ed in 1942 imploring UR to allow women to try out for the cheerleading team, which at that time was exclusively for men.
The writer of the column argued that co-ed cheerleading could “make definite progress towards that ‘esprit de corps’ that was so badly lacking” the previous year.
Over the next half a century, the pendulum shifted, with cheerleading largely regarded as a predominantly female-dominated sport.
Co-ed teams in collegiate competitions benefit from being able to accomplish more complex stunts, Caudill said.
“People are afraid to try it, having never done it before, but the team is so understanding and helpful,” he said.
McMillan makes sure that the team’s signage encourages any UR students to try out for the team, regardless of gender identity, she said.
Lots of athletic backgrounds can create a foundation for cheerleading, she said.
“Richmond doesn’t have a gymnastics program, so people with a gymnastics background usually try out for cheerleading because that’s the closest they can get to cheerleading,” she said.
The team incorporates both gymnastics and cheerleading techniques into its stunts.
McMillan hopes that Caudill’s role on the team can encourage interested students to try out and reject the archaic conceptions of cheerleading and gender, she said.
Contact features writer Avery Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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