Story posted April 29, 2008
"One, two, three, lift!" Emily Andrade '10 shoots into the air, supported by four teammates, and strikes the classic cheerleader pose: both arms extended toward the ceiling and a confident smile on her face. Nearby, three girls practice dance moves while counting the beat out loud. After a few run-throughs they move on to "toe-touches," a move that involves touching your toes ... in mid air.
"At morning practice we do 40 to wake up," one girl says. The Bowdoin Cheerleading Squad certainly doesn't shy away from a challenge, and its decision to embark on a two-day hike through the Maine woods in early April while the snow is still measured in feet is further proof of their willingness to try new things — even if they are a little scary.
Plans for a collaborative trip with the Outing Club began this past winter after the team captains approached Director of Multicultural Affairs Wil Smith '00 with concerns about their image as a cheerleading squad in a school with no previous troupes. They wanted to do something that would encourage team bonding and allow them to discuss some of the issues facing them back on campus.
Outing Club Director Mike Woodruff planned the trek as part of a pilot program promoting team-building trips for groups who could benefit from a weekend outdoors. Outing Club Leader Meaghan Maguire '08 and women's soccer head coach Maren Rojas signed on to lead the trip and help the team voice their frustrations in a productive fashion.
After a two-hour van ride of singing, dancing and nonstop laughter, the group arrived at the Poplar Stream Trailhead in Carrabassett Valley. For most of them, the prospect of a two-mile hike through the wilderness was both unfamiliar and daunting.
"I've never seen this many trees in my life," says Latoyia Hall '10, who grew up in Philadelphia, "I am definitely scared right now."
Almost all of the current team members are from urban areas outside of New England, and most have never been on this type of excursion before.
According to Andrade, one of the squad's co-captains who grew up in Los Angeles, that is exactly why she wanted to do it. "This is a good opportunity to do something new," she says. Her teammate Ale Diaz '10, who lives in Austin, Texas, agrees. "This kind of stuff doesn't exist where we're from," she says.
The team strapped on snowshoes for the three-mile hike to the Poplar Stream Falls Hut, part of the eco-friendly network of walkways and lodging built by Maine Huts and Trails to make Maine's interior more accessible.
Three hours and five snowball fights later, the hut comes into view and the first challenge of the day is complete. "Latoyia, stand over there for a victory shot!" yells Rachael Fleming '09. The sense of accomplishment is overwhelming.
After arriving at the hut, Maguire and Rojas offer to lead the troupe in a few goal-setting activities and are met with the same enthusiasm that has marked the entire journey.
Each team member is asked to write individual and team goals on an index card, and share them with the group.
It is apparent by the end of the session that the team is frustrated with the way they are perceived by their fellow students.
"We're trying to re-define cheerleading and what it means," says Fleming. "We want it to be more concrete than people dancing in spandex."
Courses of action are discussed and by the end of the two-hour block, everyone is excited to get things started. "I'm so glad we're going this," says Fleming of the trip. "Even though my paper is going to suffer severely, I would do it again in a second."