When former cheerleaders get together, someone always ends up getting thrown in the air. At weddings, social gatherings or even during marriage proposals, former cheerleaders always find a reason to perform stunts. At least that’s what Erica Long says, and she has been working with cheerleaders at Missouri S&T since she first stepped onto campus as a student in 1998.
Today, Long is the head coach of the S&T cheerleading squad and the Gold Miners dance team. For the fifth year in a row, she’s organizing an opportunity for former cheerleaders to throw each other in the air again.
Since 2011, Long has invited former S&T cheerleaders to return and cheer alongside the current squad during the Homecoming football game.
“It started with a couple of alumni begging me to do something like this,” says Long, a 2003 civil engineering graduate. “The first year we did it, seven former cheerleaders came back, including me, and it’s grown every year since then into a tradition.”
But Long says that it’s more than just an opportunity to pick up the pom-poms again.
“There’s a community among this group that’s unlike any other sport; we become a family,” she says. “When you perform a cheerleading stunt, you’re putting your life and safety in someone else’s hands. And that forges a bond, so when these alumni come back it’s like a family reunion.”
The returning cheerleaders start the “family reunion” on Friday night before the Homecoming game each year to have practice and reconnect. Then, during the game on Saturday, the alumni cheer alongside the current cheerleading squad and the Gold Miners.
“They’re able to just walk on and perform without any hiccups because the cheers don’t change much year to year,” Long says. “Eighty percent of the cheers we perform now were the same in 1998 when I was a cheerleader.”
While not much has changed, being able to cheer with the alumni squad is a privilege Long says current cheerleaders look forward to.
“The alumni that come back to cheer are some of the best cheerleaders who have gone through the program,” she says. “The current seniors look forward to graduating to perform stunts with the alumni they’ve never gotten to work with before.”
Long says the sense of community is still unparalleled among the S&T cheerleading squad, even across many years — a feat that Long says is something to cheer about.
“Practice has been at the same time in the same place for 15 years,” says Long. “So, whenever a former cheerleader is in town, the first place they stop is cheerleading practice.”