By Geena Provenzano
On Feb. 28, Point Park’s cheerleading team competed in their last competition of the year. It was not only the end of the team’s season, but also the end of senior Riley Norman’s 11-year cheerleading career.
Norman had a spot on Point Park’s cheerleading team since her freshman year. This season the 21-year-old was named captain, along with her friend and roommate, Jordyn Green. Together they took on a task they never could have had imagined: Navigating the team through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although her last season was far from normal, Norman wanted to make sure everyone felt like it was worth it.Over the summer the team practiced on Zoom, where she conducted workouts and taught cheers. They didn’t get to practice at Point Park’s student center as a team until October. During practices everyone had to wear a mask, and they spent extra time sanitizing.
While many sports teams at other universities had COVID outbreaks, no one on Point Park’s cheerleading team got sick. Norman gives that credit to the cheerleading and dance teams’ head coach, Bettina Herold.
Typically the cheerleading and dance teams will attend all of Point Park’s men’s and women’s basketball games. This year, Norman said they only cheered at around 10 games.
Their competition season was mostly all virtual. Although Norman missed performing in front of a crowd, she appreciated not having to drive 4-5 hours to each competition. Point Park’s cheerleading and dance teams are part of the Wolverine–Hoosier Athletic Conference, and many of the competitions are held in Michigan and Ohio.
“2020-21 Was a challenging but fulfilling season,” Coach Herold said. “We were able to leverage the virtual competition opportunity to schedule a full competitive season.”
The team ended their season with their first appearance at the WHAC Championship on Feb. 27. They scored 5th and earned their highest score of the season.
As captain, Norman served as the liaison between her coaches and the rest of the team. She choreographed the dances for basketball games and taught all of the cheers. Her favorite part about being captain was serving as a role model for her teammates.
“During my freshman year I had such a great experience with the captains and the seniors,” Norman said. “I hope I was like that for other people.”
For sophomore Laala Williams, Norman was that.
“She was a good teammate,” said Williams. “She took her time to make sure everyone was on the same page as a team before moving onto something new. she liked having fun as compared to just coming to practice just to practice.”
Coach Herold agreed.
“Riley has done so much for our program over the years, Herold said. “Her hard work and dedication have taken the team to many successes.”
This season Norman not only had to focus on COVID and being captain, but also finishing her senior year. One of the hardest parts about any college sport is finding balance. Norman is pursuing an accounting degree, and also works part time in Point Park’s admissions office. She says she was able to manage all of her responsibilities by making a set schedule. Because practices were at night, she worked on her schoolwork during the day. If the team was traveling, she did homework to and from the competition. In addition to practicing three days a week, Norman also pushed herself to go to the gym each day.
“Somehow I make it work, even though this semester has been really rough,” Norman said.
Her routine did work. Norman, along with five of her teammates, was named to the WHAC All-Academic Team for those with a 3.25 GPA or higher.
Norman won’t be carrying her stunting and tumbling skills into her next chapter. But she will use all of the lessons she’s learned while pursuing her master’s degree in accounting at Duquesne University next fall. She says that being captain has greatly improved her communication and organizational skills.
“Because of cheerleading I now know how to work in a group setting and know how to talk to people who don’t necessarily agree with how I’m doing things,” Norman said. “I’m very thankful for that. It’s been a very humbling experience.”
What Norman will miss most about cheerleading is her friends. She has met some of her best friends through the program and says she can only wish that for others as well.
“Not having them around me 24/7 is definitely going to be sad,” Norman said. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”