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Cheerleading, pom-pon squads to make spirited debut

E to the U, DU -- E to the X, DX!
Cosine! Secant! Tangent! Sine!
3 point 1 4 1 5 9!
Integral! Radical! Mu, DV
Slipstick! Slide rule! MIT!
-- Traditional MIT cheer

Sharon Ross (SB 1965) has a word of advice for the 21 women who have formed cheerleading and pom-pon squads and hope to inspire a traditional brand of school spirit at MIT men's and women's basketball games this winter: Enjoy.

"I enjoyed it tremendously," said Dr. Ross, who was Sharon Cutler in 1963 when she joined six other women in a similar venture. "I still have my souvenir silver 'T' necklace."

Traditionally, MIT school spirit embodies hacks, inventions, patents and problem sets. Exhorting athletes onto greater heights does not have high status under the Dome.

That doesn't stop students from trying, every generation or thereabouts. The latest are head cheerleader Jennifer D. Navarro, a junior in mechanical engineering, and Nina Ma, a senior in biology, captain of the pom-pon squad. Both groups plan to debut their acts at the men's basketball home opener against Tufts on Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 7pm.

"I started the squad because my high school had crazy school spirit and I missed having that kind of pride in my school when I came to MIT," said Ms. Navarro. "I cheered on a national-level squad in high school and enjoyed it a lot. So I figured I'd try and help raise our school spirit by doing something that I really like. Plus spirit around MIT has been pretty low for the past year and I wanted to help remedy that a little."

The other cheerleaders are Erica Selin, a sophomore in architecture; Stephanie Cheng and Enid Choi, both juniors in chemical engineering; Jean Cagas, a senior in materials science and engineering; Maryann Sapanara, a senior in civil and environmental engineering; Susan Rushing, a senior in brain and cognitive sciences; Katin Shields, a senior in mechanical engineering; and Kari Smith, a junior in nuclear engineering. Ms. Navarro hopes to expand the squad to 12.

With financial boosts from the Office of Residence and Student Life and the Varsity Club, both squads have ordered uniforms which they hope to have before the first game. "If they're not here, we may cheer anyway in matching T-shirts and shorts," Ms. Navarro said.

Besides Ms. Ma, members of the pom-pon squad are Emily Le, a junior in biology; Kristy Hong and Tuknekah Noble, both seniors in chemical engineering; Anna Orenstein-Cardona, a senior in in brain and cognitive sciences; Rena Nassr and Barika Poole and Elizabeth Sharp, all sophomores in biology; Seema Awatramani, a sophomore in aeronautics and astronautics; Alice Chau, a junior in electrical engineering and computer science; Linda Huang, a junior in management; and freshman Ailin Yang.

The cheerleaders will perform acrobatic stunts and lead chants, while the pom-pon squad concentrates on hip-hop/funk dance routines at halftime. "I envision that the two spirit groups will blend together and help each other out at games and practices," said Ms. Ma, who danced competitively while she was in high school.

Ever since she arrived on campus, Ms. Ma has felt that MIT needs to develop a greater sense of unity and spirit. "There is so much potential in the student body, but because the resources and funding for spirit activities are minimal, nobody has really invested the time or effort to start up or improve this aspect of MIT life," she said. "This being my senior year, I figured it was my last chance."

Back in 1963, there were far fewer women in the student body and the crowd wasn't sure what to make of the cheerleaders. "The Harvard fans seemed to be the most surprised," recalled Dr. Ross, now a mathematician at Georgia Perimeter College in Clarkston, GA. "I'm not sure people always understood that we were Tech coeds."

That squad was formed by a student who'd been a cheerleader in high school and trained the others. The Institute provided uniforms and "little red tenny runners." Dr. Ross isn't sure how many members of the squad had been high school cheerleaders; she had not.

"It was great fun for us all," Dr. Ross recalled. "We always felt it had been a successful evening if we had made it through 'Give me an M, give me an A���������������������������' [through the 34 letters that spell out Massachusetts Institute of Technology] without losing our place. Try it with a crowd watching."

Ms. Navarro, Ms. Ma and company plan to.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 18, 1998.

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