Cheering for change

Spirit, struggle and success define the Santa Rosa Junior College Cheer Team’s fight for safe practice accommodations and respect from administrators, coaches and faculty.
Cheer is a physically demanding sport. Constant conditioning and weightlifting prepares the team to pull off elaborate stunts, basket tosses and flips.
Cheer is a physically demanding sport. Constant conditioning and weightlifting prepares the team to pull off elaborate stunts, basket tosses and flips.
Hana Seals

Roughly two-dozen cheerleaders gathered on SRJC’s Bailey Field as head coach Dori Elder led her team in practice for their halftime routine. The field was nearly pitch black and it was 50 degrees outside, unusually cold for a September evening. Cheerleaders, dressed in their practice uniforms — T-shirts sporting “SRJC Cheer” and small spandex shorts — shivered and rubbed their arms. They were freezing, and it was too dangerous to toss each other in the dark. 

Elder ended practice early, due to the unsafe and uncomfortable conditions. Though relieved to get warm, the team was also disappointed to miss crucial practice time.

When the Santa Rosa campus’s Tauzer Gym closed for renovation at the start of 2023, SRJC’s sports teams temporarily lost a crucial venue for practice, making it more important than ever for teams to book the available spaces on campus. The cheer team booked Haehl Pavilion on Fridays and the football field on Mondays and Wednesdays for practices, but numerous times the cheerleaders arrived to find other sports teams practicing during their allotted hours. That night in September, the team was practicing on Bailey Field with no accommodations from the school’s administration. The lights that illuminate the football field during games were off and field bathrooms were locked.

Throughout 2023 coach Elder has advocated for a safe and consistent practice space for her team. She spoke to Director of Student Life and Engagement Zach Maranda, Athletic Director Matt Markovich, former SRJC President Frank Chong and several staff members. Elder said her concerns went unaddressed, and the cheer team was left hanging.

The SRJC cheer team is very tight-knit; the cheerleaders regard each other as family. Hours spent practicing together have proven crucial to building their team spirit. (Hana Seals)


Pepping up the crowd at sports games and showing up for events is just a fraction of what cheerleading is about. “Cheerleading is a combination of things,” said Amber Fields, former SRJC cheerleader and current assistant coach. “It’s acrobatics, which is involved in stunting. It has elements of tumbling, and it also has elements of dancing.” On top of learning 50 sideline cheers, the team engages in endurance training, body conditioning and weightlifting. These hours of practice prepare them for lifting one another into pyramid formations, holding stunts and everything else the sport entails.

Practicing on Bailey Field a group of cheerleaders practice a basket toss, propelling a flyer high into the air in the splits. (Hana Seals)

The cheer season, which involves performing at home football games, both men’s and women’s basketball games and other college events, can span almost the entire year. The better the basketball team plays, the longer the cheer season lasts. “We have our tryouts in April, and our season goes until about February or March,” Fields said.

Members of the team commute from all over Sonoma and Marin counties.

“I have a cheerleader that comes from Tamalpais,” Elder said. “I have one that comes from San Rafael. I have three that come from Sonoma.”

Piper Lefson, co-captain and team flyer, said her life revolves around cheer. “My cheer schedule comes before my school, work, everything. I put literally 100% of my being into the sport,” she said. “I just love doing it. And I love to perform. And I love my teammates.”

The cheer team has a uniquely symbiotic relationship with other sports, since most of their performances take place at sports games. The team represents the spirit of the school. Elder said she tries to instill values of respect and professionalism into her cheerleaders and expects them to uphold school spirit both in and out of uniform.

Fields said she learned a lot of lessons from being a cheerleader that she uses in her everyday life. 

“I told the cheerleaders: ‘I don’t care what skills you get out of this, cheerleading-wise, I care that you’re a better person coming out of this and that you’ve learned lessons that will help you in your future professions.’”

Beyond cheering at games, the team brings spirit to SRJC at club days and other events they’re asked to attend. “We try to be involved, and we want to get other people involved,” Lefson said.


Since Elder began coaching in 2019, she has pushed for an established practice space for her team. 

Elder said the cheer team has been flexible about working with the school to find a practice space. They’ve used Tauzer Gym, Haehl Pavilion, a gym on the Petaluma Campus, the SRJC football field and even the parking garage.

At the beginning of summer 2022, Elder and Nick Hill, club sport adviser at the time, established a practice schedule. 

Cheerleaders practiced for three-hour evening stints Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in Tauzer Gymnasium.. “So then all of my cheerleaders have rearranged work schedules and school schedules around that [practice] time,” Elder said.

Yet at the beginning of the Spring 2023 semester, when the district announced Tauzer Gymnasium would undergo a renovation, the hard-earned schedule disintegrated.

Less than a year after establishing a stable practice space, college officials  told the cheer teams that they had to change again to accommodate the campus. “I’m supposed to struggle like this for three to five years, trying to figure out where these poor kids can have safe practices with mats and the things that they need,” Elder said.

Sarah Laggos, the college’s interim director of strategic communications, government and public relations, said Tauzer Gym’s closure limited available space for many campus activities.

“Intercollegiate sports have priority for space usage,” Laggos said. Sports schedules are released on short notice, causing scheduling complications for practice and game space. “[This] requires shifts in previously available spaces for scheduled games.”

Cheer is not recognized by the California Community College Athletic Association as an intercollegiate sport. Instead, it is classified as a club sport. Club sports fall under Student Services at SRJC.

Although the team is a dedicated group of student athletes, their status as club sport puts them at the end of the list. “The cheerleaders are the last people that get consideration for anything,” Elder said.

“The treatment of the cheer team is really disappointing. The amount of disrespect and the lack of support we are given is truly disheartening,” said first-year base Brylee Aubin.

“Football, they have the football field. Basketball, they have Haehl gymnasium. Soccer, there’s a soccer field. Softball, there’s a softball field. There is no specific place for cheer,” Elder said.

Practicing complex and dangerous stunts, tosses and flips requires a wide area with soft mats, Elder said.

On Oct. 10 the cheer team brought their concerns to the Board of Trustees meeting for the second time this year.

Elder told the Oak Leaf she said she wanted the cheerleaders to speak from emotion, to show the trustees their hurt and disappointment. “We don’t have the space of our own to practice as needed,” Aubin told trustees. “Yet we are expected to be at and perform at many school events.”

Lefson told the trustees, “I’m tired of being disrespected by the school.”

To the Oak Leaf, Lefson said the past three semesters have been negative enough that she’s decided to transfer to a different school next year in pursuit of a college that values its cheer team more. “I hope that everybody who comes to the JC after me as a cheerleader can have a better experience than I did,” she said.

Though the semester was painful for Lefson and her teammates, administrators heard their anguish and are finally taking steps to ensure a brighter future for SRJC cheerleaders.

SRJC cheerleaders act as a pillar of school spirit and happily show support to every event the are ask to attend. (Hana Seals)


One day after the Oct. 10 meeting, Student Life and Engagement Director Miranda called Elder to offer a new location where the cheer team could practice: at the Public Training Safety Center on the SRJC Windsor campus.

Elder said Dean of Academic Affairs Josh Adams heard the concerns the team expressed and contacted Maranda to offer the space. The Windsor campus has a gym with a rollout mat, which will suit the team’s needs.

The cheer team will practice there from 7-8:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“SRJC is happy to support the cheer club’s practice needs through the gym at the Public Safety Training Center,” Laggos said.

When asked about the team’s quest to find an appropriate practice space, SRJC President Dr. Angélica Garcia said: “We all think that the Santa Rosa campus is where everything needs to happen. And we have amazing facilities throughout the county that could be more accessible.”

Elder is relieved that administrators finally heard her team. “This time I really feel it, and now people are … taking notice,” she said.

Assistant coach Fields, who has been involved with SRJC cheer since 2015, said this is the first major step she’s seen the college take to prioritize the cheerleaders.

“This is the first time that the school has actually stepped up to actually provide even a safe space for them,” Fields said. “It’s really nice to see that the school might be coming around to the team. I love every aspect of this team and I just wish that they got the recognition that they deserve.” 

A group of SRJC Cheerleaders huddle together on Bailey Field. Until a recent move to the Public Training Safety Center on the Windsor campus, the team was often forced to practice on the field at dusk without lights. (Hana Seals)
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About the Contributor
Hana Seals
Hana Seals, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Hana Seals (she/her) is in her fourth semester at Santa Rosa Junior College, and is preparing to transfer to a four-year school with a major in Journalism. She mainly covers breaking news, community issues and local crime. Outside of writing she spends her time watching documentaries, drawing and opening time with friends and family. Professional content consumer.

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