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Cheerleading Team Grows in FGCU Athletics and Southwest Florida Community

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

FGCU Cheerleading is growing within the athletics department and in the Southwest Florida community. Through games, fundraisers, youth clinics and charity runs, the FGCU cheer team reflects the university’s heart and passion for strong athletics and civic engagement.

“Everybody on the team pretty much surpasses the 80 hours of required service-learning,” head coach Caragan Phillips said. “I got 500 hours when I was cheerleading.”

Phillips, originally from Springfield, Illinois, enrolled at FGCU in 2015 for the cheer program. As a learned dancer and gymnast with a knack for administration and leadership, Phillips had a vision for FGCU cheer during her first year. Throughout her time as a student athlete, she noted ideas and created a wishlist for the cheer team.

“But I knew that until I got a hold of the reins, I couldn’t start doing the things that I thought would work well with the program,” Phillips said.

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When she was offered the assistant coach position right out of college in 2019, she knew her dream would come true. By April 2022, she officially held the title of head coach and a year later, she appointed newly graduated cheerleader Hannah Crawford as her assistant.

“I followed in her footsteps. I even wore her old uniform for three years without realizing it,” Crawford said.

Phillips and Crawford coach the coed and women’s cheerleading squads. Together, they implemented some of the wishlist items like facility upgrades, media presence and a strength and conditioning coach.

They are also looking forward to the team potentially competing in the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) Game Day next year, which would be a big step for FGCU’s cheerleading team.

“We want to keep advancing our skills and our sets, and Coach Phillips has been pushing and fighting for us to get to UCA and grow our program,” Avery Surrency, a junior communications major and team captain of the women’s cheerleading squad, said.

However, trust and team bonding are required for growth before nationals.

“In a sport like cheerleading, in order to be safe you have to rely on your teammates. And we build that foundation outside of practice to strengthen our relationship in practice,” Surrency said. “A team is like a second family.”

The cheerleading team at FGCU is as tightly knit as a family can be. On Mondays, the women’s and coed teams overlap their practices for about 35 minutes to an hour to come together and show off their new stunts. Then on Wednesdays, they have one joint practice.

Chase Richardson, a former football player and current sophomore on the coed team, has a personability that serves as the glue of the team.

“The whole point of being a cheerleader is to boost people up, whether it’s the basketball team, volleyball team or my own team,” Richardson said. “I understand that my role on the team is to take responsibility and make sure that everyone is happy and doing their best. I’m dedicated to them.”

But the cheer team’s vision goes beyond nationals and athleticism.

“We began high school clinics to reach out to kids in our community and teach them the requirements of college cheer, and more specifically, FGCU cheer,” Phillips said.

When Phillips organized her first high school clinic in Alico Arena four years ago, she had 30 participants. In the latest clinic she held with Crawford, over 180 high schoolers showed up. Their clinics consist of five hours of cheerleading, all led by students on the squad.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see. We went from reaching out to high schools and parents and siblings to taking calls from people asking when our next clinic will be held the day after we just had one,” Crawford said.

At the end of the day, the cheerleading team strives to serve.

“I wanted to do something that was bigger than myself when I was coming to school,” Phillips said.

The cheerleading team and FGCU can attest that she has. The coaches were recently asked to put together a presentation of all the volunteer work she organized to present to university President Aysegal Timur.

“I’m not crying,” Phillips said as she smiled and wiped a tear from her eye. “I do it all for them. Go Eagles!”

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About the Contributor
Cristina Pop, Eagle News Assistant Opinion Editor
Cristina Pop is majoring in journalism. She is a new addition to our team of editors, which has been her dream since she started grading papers with her English teacher in 7th grade and writing for her personal Christian blog. Aside from writing, Cristina enjoys volleyball and sunset swimming at the beach.

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