For 23 years, the Husker Cheer Squad performed under restricted rules regarding stunting and tumbling after an accident left a member with spinal cord injuries. Since the early 2000s, that meant no flips or pyramids and no more male cheerleaders.
But in March 2019, Athletic Director Bill Moos announced that basic stunting and tumbling would be reintroduced at Nebraska, thanks in large part to the voices of fans and spirit squad alumni. Erynn Butzke, spirit squad head coach is one of the alumni who fought to bring the tradition back.
“I believed that we could contribute so much more to the game atmosphere with stunting, tumbling and males,” Butzke said. As a member of the Scarlets from 2000-2003, Butzke saw the then co-ed team and the energy they brought to game day and was determined to provide that for fans again.
As the head coach since 2013, Butzke has seen changes in top administrators at UNL, which posed a challenge to pushing the effort forward. When Moos came to Nebraska from the University of Washington—whose spirit program Butzke admired—the coach knew this time was as good as any.
“Bill understands what makes the collegiate atmosphere special and that male cheerleaders and the ‘wow’ factor can help create a fun atmosphere even when the score is not on our side,” Butzke said.
After the announcement, the search for and eventual addition of six men to the 22-strong all female squad was made. Butzke, assistant coach Nikki Kimura, former head spirit squad coach at Hastings College, and the team began their transition to the new rules in August.
Because the majority of women on the squad made it while the old rules were in place, adapting to change was necessary. Senior captain Hannah Burmeister said the squad was ready and willing to try something new, especially because they appreciate the tradition in it.
“Everyone on the team is putting in so much effort to make sure that both our new stunts and our technique we’ve been building for the past 20 years looks flawless on game days,” Burmeister said.
The new stunting policy allows basic one-high lifts along with tumbling. Basket tosses and pyramids will have to wait.
“Our first priority is the safety of our spirit squad members and our staff has worked diligently on a plan to re-introduce stunting and tumbling, with safety at the forefront,” Moos said in the announcement.
In 1996, a cheerleader fell during a practice, causing spinal cord damage, which led to the original rule change. To reintroduce the stunting elements to Husker Cheer, more infrastructure is being added to the team.
In addition to the spirit squad coaches, an athletic trainer is present at every practice and event. The team now works with performance nutrition, a strength coach and athletic medicine. Through the squad’s integration into athletics, Butzke hopes to see the squad continue to grow and become competitive in the Big 10 — but that Husker sports and its fans come first.
“Game day is our focus,” Butzke said. “As the football and basketball teams grow in their success, we’ll be there to support them and create an environment to help theme recruit, retain and win.”