Cheerleading Club works through challenges of finding a new coach

The Allegheny College Cheerleading Club is overseen by the athletic department, receiving funding for a coach along with help setting up routines and performances at basketball and football games. The team has been working to become an official sport but has been limited by monetary problems.

Co-captain EricaRae Garcia, ’16, has been cheering for 12 years, and cheer has always been a big part of her life. Garcia considered playing softball at Allegheny but chose cheer instead.

“I couldn’t imagine not cheering,” Garcia said.

Autumn Clark, ’19, is relatively new to the sport, having started cheer when she came to Allegheny this fall. In high school, Clark participated in the pom team, a cross between cheerleading and dance team.

“They didn’t have a pom team, so I had to do the closest thing to it,” Clark said.

Clark said she enjoys being part of the Cheerleading Club because it was a fun season she was sad to see end.

“The team was very sweet, and I fell in love with each of them, making all the difficult parts of the season worth it. The weather sucked but the team was great,” Clark said.

Sami Lait, ’18, has been cheering for the better part of her life. Lait first began cheering in third grade and really liked Allegheny because she was able to cheer on the team here, whereas a bigger school would have been more challenging. Lait partially chose Allegheny so she could keep doing what she loves.

“We had a lot of fun. We got a lot of new people, but they stepped up to the plate with every challenge they faced and did very well,” Lait said.

The cheer club recently faced problems with coaching.  Following issues that arose with previous coaches, Carrie Pontegratz resigned but later tried to come back to coach the team. However, Ponegratz received some resistance when she attempted to do so.

Lait described the coaching situation as hectic and a state of confusion. She went on to say she and many of her teammates feel uninformed as to what was going on.

Multiple team members, upperclassmen especially, do not plan to come back for the basketball season. For Clark, the coaching situation is not a big deal. She plans to try out regardless of the coach. Clark believes a new coach will give the team a fresh start. Lait agreed, mentioning that the club needs to work hard to make up for lost time.

“We’re all really dedicated, so I think we’ll be okay as always,” Lait said.

To try and figure out the confusion, two meetings were held by members of the team for the Cheer Club, where they could voice their opinions on the coaching matter. At the meeting, members were able to discuss their positions on the subject, although some feel that it only prolonged the problem. They held a vote to bring Ponegratz back that passed by one vote. However, the captains did not want her to return as coach, so they brought it to the attention of Associate Athletic Director Bill Ross, who backed the captains.

After a few weeks of uncertainty, the captains worked together with Ross to come up with a list of possible candidates for a new coach. The captains were able to speak with those interested in the position, which helped the decision process. Their new coach, Stephanie Hartzell, is a promising fresh start for the team. Hartzell cheered in college, and also has all-star cheer experience.

“I think she [Hartzell] will help us move to the next level,” Garcia said.

The team is scheduled to start practices, and they will soon evaluate the audition process for the winter season.

The team will have their first performance of the winter season on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 5 p.m.  during the basketball tournament.