The sidelines could be a little quieter this year after Tyler Junior College canceled its cheerleading program for the 2011-12 school year.
TJC administrators decided last month to temporarily cut the program after the resignation of head coach Zach Houchin, who resigned in April. A TJC official said Houchin took a position with a Dallas cheerleading team.
Administrators say the temporary cut will save about $80,000 and give the college time to reassess the program.
That price tag includes the coach's salary, travel, insurance and scholarship costs.
Cheerleading, in some form or fashion, dates back to 1926 at TJC. That year the college opened and had a pep squad to cheer on its football team, according to a book about the history of the school.
In recent years, team members have cheered at men's and women's basketball and soccer games as well as football and volleyball games, said Vincent Nguyen, TJC's director of student life and involvement and a former cheerleading coach.
They traveled to some away games depending on the distance, Nguyen said.
The temporary cut of the program comes at a time when the college is looking for ways to rein in expenses.
He said TJC is looking to cut $1 million more from next year's budget. The college already implemented tuition increases, a hiring “chill,” travel cutbacks and more to help address state cuts in this budget cycle and prepare for more in the next.
When Houchin resigned it fell in line with these initiatives for the college to look closely at the position and decide if it was something they needed to fill or not, Moore said. Because it was so late in the year, they opted not to.
About 40 people tried out for the cheerleader program in April and eight were accepted for the team.
Although the college put the program on hold, they offered to honor cheerleader scholarships, which range from $600 to $1,000 a year, for qualified students.
Moore said the college has worked with cheerleading team members who have chosen to stay at TJC, connecting them with other student organizations or game-day activities if they are interested.
However, Nguyen could not say how many of the eight students chose to stay at the college after learning the program would be cut.
Attempts to reach the students were unsuccessful.
TJC student athletes were not pleased with the news of the program's temporary removal.
Basketball players Ashley Benjamin and Cecilia Okoye, both 19, said they are going to miss the team.
“It's going to make a difference,” said Ms. Okoye, who was a starter last year and is returning this year. “Sports itself isn't going to be the same.”
Ms. Okoye and Ms. Benjamin said the cheerleaders acted as crowd control. They helped to create the “tunnel” the players would run through before each game.
And, they also distracted the other team at the right times with their cheers and comments, Ms. Benjamin said.
“Especially away games, they make it feel like its home,” Ms. Okoye said.
TJC football players Brendan Miller, 19, and Phillip Dean, 20, said they feel much the same.
The men said having cheerleaders helps to motivate the athletes, creating an excitement in the crowd that fuels the players.
“It gets the adrenaline going so you can go for it and make the win,” said Dean, of Houston, who plays defensive tackle.
TJC athletic director Dr. Tim Drain said there will be a noticeable difference at football games where cheerleaders are expected.
He said he has had discussions with other TJC officials about how the Apache Belles or other student organizations can be involved in different ways to help fill the gap.
He said he hopes the squad comes back.
“I always thought they did a good job,” he said.
Nguyen said although budget cuts can be demoralizing, they give the college an opportunity to be creative.
He and Moore talked about creating a possible pom squad or pep squad. Moore said he would like to have a plan in place by August.
“We're going to try to make it where our fans don't miss a beat,” Moore said.
As for the future of the cheerleader program, the men said they are open to bringing it back, but they want to do it right. And that may mean acquiring some financial support from donors.
“We're going to utilize this time to make sure that we have the right persons here, that we don't jump into any quick decisions because we need to build this program right,” Nguyen said.