by Yukako Ito, Class of 2017
(From left to right: MICDS HS Varsity Cheerleading, Meliora Weekend 2013, Meliora Weekend 2016)
A month before my high school graduation in May 2013, I made my decision to join the University of Rochester Cheerleading team. Cheerleading, a passion I found my freshman year in high school, was something I knew I wanted to continue. I reached out to the president, Rachel Kitt (’14) and immediately got a response. She got me in contact with the captain, Lexie Clark (’15) who was from Saint Louis also, and I ended up meeting my first and biggest role models.
Joining the team during my first year at the Rochester was nothing but a blessing. I was instantly surrounded by people that knew the struggles of a first year college student and of an aspiring college athlete. These were students who were willing to help and show me the ways, while also welcoming me into the world of collegiate cheer.
December of 2013, nearing the end of my very first semester at the UR, I unfortunately tore my ACL and meniscus during a practice. Initially, I was told that it was a sprained knee, and I continued to cheer. Right before our final competition in April, I was persuaded by my team to get an MRI, forcing me to face the fact that I was severely injured for our final performance. There was a split second where I had to choose between my team and myself, and probably for the first time in my career, I chose the bigger picture over myself.
My surgery at the end of April 2014 took me out of cheerleading for six months. For the first two months of my sophomore year, even after weekly physical therapy sessions, I was unable to participate in something that I loved. Watching the team from the sidelines at practice is something that I can now fondly look upon. At the time, it was hard to watch the stunts, jumps, and tumbling that I could’ve been doing. But I failed to realize that I had the full support of my team. Not every team would lift you when you are at your lowest and accept you back two months late into the season.
Basketball halftime performance, February 2015
At the end of my sophomore year, I was appointed to be one of the captains alongside Tay Porter-Monroe (‘16), inheriting the role from my role model that I had met two years prior. My only goal was to work tirelessly with Tay to make this team the best version of itself, taking Meliora true to heart. This team has seen it all since my first day as captain, more injuries, people quitting the team and stepping down from leadership positions, funds getting cut, and not being recognized by the school or its student body. But as my second year of captainship and my final year as a cheerleader draws close to its end, I’ve seen such improvement, respect, and hope that I cannot wait for you all to see during your time at the UR. We were able to perform during Rochester football and basketball games, to compete in multiple competitions and bring back several First Place trophies, and was able to attend the Reach the Beach Nationals Competition in Ocean City, MD for the first time in sixteen years.
Practice shot in preparation for Reach the Beach Nationals Competition, November 2015
At Reach the Beach Nationals Competition, April 2016
As we look into the future, I am even more hopeful of what is in store. We recruited ten new members this season, five of them freshman. Three rookies stepped up to accept positions in the Executive Board as well, making me excited to see where the leadership goes next year. We have an amazing relationship with Core Athletix, a local cheerleading gym, that has been graciously allowing us to practice safely on their spring floors. We are able to approach this season knowing that we will compete and possibly place this year in the Nationals competition. We are also working on hosting a competition on-campus to bring funds and attention to our sport, our team and our university. These are all accomplishments that this team couldn’t have imagined ten years ago, when this team was an overlooked club sport that practiced in available spaces around campus.
Cheerleading, and specifically the University of Rochester Cheerleading Team, has taught me so much and enriched my experience at the UR to its highest potential. First and foremost, I was able to meet brilliant men and women who shared the same passion but came from very different backgrounds and experiences. Each teammate that I had the pleasure of sharing the floor with brought something new to the team and to me. I learned about compassion, overcoming your fears, confidence and respect. I learned things that I couldn’t learn in a classroom. Secondly, I learned the importance of school spirit, whether it be in a cheerleading uniform or just living by the Meliora motto. There is a mutual respect between the student body and the university. You will not find a more supportive university that sees their students’ needs through. You just need to give your share back to the university that gave you a foundation.
My advice for prospective and incoming students is simple, find your cheerleading team. Whether it be a cultural organization, a dance or acapella group, community service initiatives, or a Greek organization, remember that there’s always something for you at the University of Rochester. There is a long journey in store for you to learn about your passion inside the classroom, so why not find a place outside of it to learn and experience everything else?
End of Season Photo Shoot, April 2016
My name is Yukako Ito, a senior from Saint Louis, MO who loves cheerleading and the lessons it gave me here at the University of Rochester. I want to share this experience with you, in hopes that you find your own story at our beloved home beside the Genesee.