DePaul’s growing cheer team motivated by record-breaking season


The cheer team placed 5th out of 25 teams in their division in April 2023.

When DePaul’s Office of the President sent the email on March 11, 2020 alerting students and staff of the upcoming pandemic precautions, the campus environment quickly became petrified. 

The email indicated that almost every course would be taught virtually, and that on-campus residents should move out of their housing and prepare not to return to campus in the spring. Similar to nearly every campus in the world, DePaul was an absent community filled with uncertainty. 

By March 24, 2020, Jeff Lanfear of University Counseling Services (UCS) shared a statement on DePaul’s website offering advice to help students cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“A good first step is acknowledging that probably all members of the DePaul community and beyond have experienced a great deal of stress, uncertainty and upheaval in recent days,” Lanfear said. “The coronavirus pandemic has increased anxiety and fear of people around the world. We may fear for our health and the wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Unease remained in the student body until — and after — in-person classes were offered once again for fall quarter of 2021. Like many other teams, DePaul cheer had to somewhat rebuild its program in light of the pandemic. 

The team’s spirit was a beacon of hope in the dark times of the early pandemic and attracted a strong team dedicated to community spirit. DePaul cheer has transformed their program in the past three years, seizing the pandemic as an opportunity for growth rather than pause. 

“The pandemic taught us a lot.” said spirit director and DePaul alumna Shanon Lersch. 

“We were super fortunate to have the support of the athletic department during Covid, while we did most of our things virtually, but through the athletics department’s protocols and precautions, we were eventually able to move in-person. That was actually one of our first years going back to nationals to compete.” 

The team competed at Universal Dance Association (UDA) College Nationals in 2021, placing 19th out of 31 other teams. 

“While it was strange and challenging, we were really able to grow,” Lersch said. “We were really able to focus on getting competition back into our program, and we’ve been back to nationals ever since.”

A community of competitive spirit attracted many fresh faces for the team. Among these are Jamya Whiteman and Gwen Halik, both DePaul juniors, teammates, and roommates. 

“I decided to go to DePaul first, and I kinda roped her into it, and then we thought oh my gosh what if we went to DePaul together.” Halik said. 

Both Halik and Whiteman will be entering the next season as veterans, and both look forward to providing guidance to those who will enter the team for the first time. 

“It’s gonna be fun to see them kinda struggle with it, the way I struggled with it,” Whiteman said. “I’m excited to provide that reassurance and tell them, ‘It’s okay, you’re doing great.’

As two of the oldest team members who have grown with the program, the duo shares equal enthusiasm about getting back on the mat with the rest of the team, especially following the recent success of the team at the National Cheerleaders Alliance National Championships. 

“A lot of the vets especially, we were really hungry to do well,” Halik said. “It really shows how much we’ve grown in the past year, there were more teams than ever at the NCA. Not only that, but it was the highest DePaul has ever placed.” 

The team placed 5th out of 25 teams in their division in April 2023, putting DePaul on the map, according to Lersch. 

“All of my teammates are fantastic people, and really capable,” Whiteman said. “We’re gonna put in just as much work and hopefully bring home a title.”

Final spring tryouts for the 2023-24 season are set for June 17 at 8:30 a.m. at the Sullivan Athletic Center. 

“If you missed the first tryout, you should still come to this one,” Halik said. “It’s super fun, you get to meet everyone and showcase your skills and potentially be a part of something you will love.”