Feb. 4, 2013
Article by Sandra Millers Younger
USD Magazine Spring 2013
Cheerleaders. The word triggers images of beautiful young women who dazzle sports fans with their intricate dance routines, eye-catching uniforms and gravity-defying stunts.
Not so 50 years ago at the University of San Diego, then a community of less than a thousand students, many of them nuns and seminarians who were divided into separate men's and women's campuses.
"We tried out in the men's cafeteria," says former USD Alumni Board president Delle Willett '64, who, as a sophomore in 1961-1962 won a spot on an early Toreros cheerleading squad. "It was very low key. One of the boys did a back flip. The rest of our routine was jumping, shaking our pompoms, cheers and chants."
The girls' uniforms were equally simple -- blue, knee-length pleated skirts, topped by heavy white sweaters. Still, Mother Frances Danz, then-president of the women's college summoned the young women to her office to personally inspect their attire.
That first squad of three women and three men marked the start of an ongoing tradition. Variously named -- cheer team, yell team, spirit team (and now including the university's dance team) -- these champions of school spirit have fired up Torero fans and athletes for generations.
Willett looks back fondly on her time as a cheerleader. "It was fun being in front of people at the games, getting everyone excited, going on road trips," she recalls.
The one-sleeved mini dresses and infectious dance routines
that characterize today's spirit team dancers would never have passed muster five decades ago. But even after half a century, cheering for the Toreros is still fun.
"It was really exciting right away," says sophomore communications major Alexis Swanstrom, a spirit team member last year who now cheers for the San Diego Chargers National Football League team. "And right away I made some of the greatest friends."
Last summer, Willett came up with the idea of organizing a spirit team alumni group to renew such friendships and enable former cheerleaders and dancers to boost school spirit once again.
"The people who are in front of others at games are well known; they have a higher profile and tend to be campus leaders," Willett explains. "So, if former spirit team members get involved with USD again and reach out to their classmates, it will help the university attract more alumni and more support, financially and otherwise. And the people who come back will be reconnected to friends, so everybody wins."
Willett, who chairs the Alumni Recognition Committee, found an enthusiastic planning partner in Amy Bodnar '06, herself a dance team alum who returned to Alcalá Park last July as the spirit team's new head coach. Bodnar saw advantages for the university and spirit alumni, as well as current team members.
"Dance team for me was the biggest part of my life at USD," she says. "I want today's members to know this isn't just a team they participate in now, but they're part of a network of alumni who have done this before."
Willett and Bodnar worked with the USD Alumni Association to compile a partial list of spirit grads and invite them back to campus during Homecoming 2012. About a dozen alumni -- plus family members -- attended the first annual spirit team reunion breakfast held last October. More have since re-engaged through social media.
By next year, Willett and Bodnar plan to comb through stacks of old yearbooks to identify and invite all former cheerleaders and dancers to re-engage with their alma mater.
"The main reason is the power of our social network," Willett says. "The people in the cheering business have the capacity to bring back people to campus, and we need to mobilize and use that power to help the university."
Baseball: For the Love of the Game
Baseball celebrates 60 years
Women's Basketball: Women in Sports Day
Julie Foudy spoke to student-athletes and guests for National Women in Sports Day
Men's Basketball: At LMU
Men's basketball on the road
Women's Rowing: Day in the Life
Senior Lizzie Bader shows how three-a-day practices are done
Men's Basketball: Youth Basketball Clinic
Toreros lead clinic in local community
Men's Rowing: Winter Camp 2018
There are plenty perks to being the early bird
60 Years of USD Baseball
Milestones on the road to Omaha
USD Honors Local Military Members
Toreros showed their support and hosted local military members at the men's basketball game
USD Athletes Sing "Santa's Coming to Town"
Toreros show their talent out of uniform
Basketball: City Championship
Toreros play SDSU Thursday night at 8
Football: Week Fourteen
Football preps for second round of playoffs at NDSU
Football: NAU From the Sidelines
Toreros win in first round of playoffs at NAU
Football: Week Thirteen
Football travels to NAU for the first round of the FCS Playoffs
A day to give to Torero Athletics
Football: Week Twelve
Toreros gear up for last game of conference play
Football: Week Eleven
Toreros prep for game day
Torero Timeout with Summer Mason
USD junior women's soccer player takes a timeout during a study break
On Saturday We Dominate
Big wins for both USD Football and USD Volleyball Saturday afternoon
Torero Timeout with Henry Lander
Men's soccer sophomore Henry Lander takes a Timeout between classes
Football: Week Ten
Toreros gear up for home game against Drake
Men's and women's basketball teamed up to host a Halloween event
Football: Week Nine
Big day in the weight room for the Toreros
Seamus McFadden's Legacy
39 years in review by former players and coaches
Alumni, staff and the San Diego community gathered to celebrate Men's Soccer Head Coach Seamus McFadden
Sixth Man Night: The Event
Recap video of the October 12 fundraiser event
Women's Basketball: WCC Hoops Tip-Off
Coach Fisher and Maya Hood attend media day in Las Vegas
Men's Basketball: New Heights
Men's basketball celebrates the third era of the program
Alumni and family gathered together for an eventful Homecoming weekend
Torero Timeout with Kristen Gengenbacher
Take a Timeout with the senior setter at her house in South Mission Beach
Football: Week Seven
Football preps for this Saturday's Homecoming game
Torero Timeout with Jonathan Petersen
USD Football's Petersen strolls through Belmont Park during his bye week
USD Basketball: Practice No. 1
Check out what practice looks like for the Torero ballers
Football: Week Five
Toreros prep for big game against Dayton
Football: FaceTime with Lion's Jamal Agnew
USD Head Coach Dale Lindsey congratulates Torero alum Agnew on his first NFL touchdown
Football: Brian Fogarty PFL Classic
From tailgates to touchdowns, we got it all
Football: Week Four
Hard work follows these Toreros on and off the field
Cross Country: USD Invite
Missed Saturday's race? Don't stress, we have it right here
Football: Week Three
Sights and sounds of USD Football at work
USD Invite: Take a Lap
Men's and women's cross country host the USD Invite: the only home race for the Toreros
Football: Week Two
Football hard at work for their first away game at UC Davis
Three Games - One Day
Ole Weekend was one to remember for USD Athletics
Football: Week One
Toreros preps for their home opener against Western New Mexico
2017 Football Season Preview
Head Coach Dale Lindsey and Senior Ray Clark discuss upcoming season
USD Athletics Highlight Video 2016-17
Don't miss the best highlights from this past year in USD Athletics