HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - They've cheered, pirouetted, and tumbled their way to 23 national championships. But now, Hawaii Pacific University's cheer and dance squads have likely seen their last competition. Budget concerns have forced the school to restructure the programs.
In less than a week, the nation's number one cheerleaders have flipped from high atop their pyramids … to pushing for support on the streets.
On Friday, HPU won national championships in both the large and small co-ed cheer divisions in Florida. By Wednesday, school administrators told the cheer and dance teams they could no longer compete on the mainland because of budgetary concerns.
"We're bringing the expenses related to this program more in line with what we want the size and scope of the cheer and dance programs to be," says HPU's new Vice-President of Marketing and Communications, Todd Simmons. "They've, unfortunately, grown significantly in expenses in the past several years, so we're trying to rein those costs in."
After the initial shock, anger, and tears, the restructuring fired up the cheer and dance teams.
"Sign a petition to let us go to nationals! Save our program!" shouts cheerleader Brittany Barry to the crowds walking by HPU's Student Union center.
They've organized petition drives and social media support - hoping to change administrators' minds. They say the annual competition in Daytona is their time to shine for their school and Hawaii.
Cheerleader Kyle Black explains, "We get to go out, and we get to represent what we do and love … and that's just kind of the hardest thing … is to know that that's trying to be taken away from us."
Teammembers say they had no idea this was coming and were told at the same time the story broke in the school newspaper. HPU responds that the school didn't want to break the bad news before nationals.
The school has 15 athletic programs but says cheer and dance make up more than one-fifth of the overall athletic expense. Simmons adds, "These are tough times for all of us in higher education, and we have to make decisions that are sometimes difficult. This being one of those, but it doesn't mean we're not committed to cheer and dance."
Some students say, without competitions, the school won't be able to recruit quality cheerleaders and dancers. Tim Lussier, HPU's Student Body President – a supporter of the teams – says, "People aren't going to be traveling out here to wave pom-poms at basketball games, but they WILL travel out here - as they are doing on Saturday - to be a part of this award-winning program."
Try-outs are Saturday, and many wonder if, through all these changes, they can really be of good cheer.