Prior to her first semester this year at USF, freshman Aysha Benjamin noticed that the University did not have a cheer team.
She wanted to change that.
“I have been cheering for 11 years and always dreamed of being a college cheerleader one day,” Benjamin said. “I wanted to bring my love for cheer to my new home in San Francisco.”
Benjamin’s vision has come true. A USF cheer squad will debut at the Feb. 7 USF women’s basketball game.
Upon arriving at the University, Benjamin approached Frank Allocco, senior associate athletic director, with her pitch for a USF cheer squad. The two had several discussions about the possibility of forming a team. Allocco then took Benjamin’s idea up to the University administration, who were intrigued, as the idea was student-driven.
The athletics department and Benjamin both got to work to form a 14-member squad in time for the Feb. 7 basketball game. She began to mention the idea of a cheer squad around campus, and found that nearly 30 students were interested in trying out.
Cheer squad member and freshman Guadalupe Garat expressed how diverse the group is. “We are a group of girls coming from all different types of places and families,” she said. “We are all quirky in our own ways, and we each bring our different personalities together to create a very strong, easy going and fun atmosphere between us.”
Another one of the students who has earned a spot on the newly-minted squad is Bella Manfreda, also a freshman. She explained that although building a team from ground up is a lot of work, it has been worth it. Manfreda recalled that one of her favorite memories so far was being able to learn the choreography for their halftime show routine at the Feb. 7 basketball game.
“It’s cool to see your teammates working to perfect a vision you had,” Manfreda said. “I am really excited to show off the routine we have been working on. Every practice we improve a ton, so I am very ready to perform the finished product.”
After discussing Benjamin’s plan with the administration, Allocco also met with the squad’s new coach, Samantha Sidwell, to cover logistics.
Sidwell has an extensive background in dance and cheer. She was an NFL cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints in the ‘90s, and not long after, she became the cheer coach for Tulane University.
“I love that cheer has developed as a spirit group that recognizes athletic ability,” Sidwell said. “I hope that each and every student that has the opportunity to participate in our program creates memories of their days here at USF.”