When Covid-19 first struck the nation most, if not all athletic teams were affected. The Delaware State University Cheer team was not different. Due to the pandemic the 2020-2021 school year was nothing short of abnormal. From not having a football season during the Fall, and not able to host traditional tryouts (in-person) due to Covid-19, the team, coached by Eulonda Pfister, still felt many repercussions during their 2021-2022 season.
In an interview with with rising sophomore, Jaliyah Abdul-Haqq, who just completed her rookie (first) season as DSU cheerleader, and head coach, Eulonda Pfister, about how COVID-19 affected their experience within DSU cheer and the plans for the future of the program., they both expressed their frustrations.
Jaliyah, a Biology turned Social Work major, stated that she was unable to attend any homecoming events due to a false positive COVID-19 test. Throughout the school year athletes were asked to test twice weekly. Failure to comply resulted in missing practices and/or games. Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, COVID-19 testing included. Jaliyah felt missing her first HBCU homecoming as a Delaware State University student was a “fail” for her freshman experience. She missed much of the culture such as “being surrounded by alumni, by cheerleaders, and things of that nature.” It was very disappointing to the Washington D.C. native who looked forward to the HBCU homecoming experience. For coach Eulonda Pfister, this was very much new to her since this past school year was her first year serving as the head coach of the DSU cheer team, which was recently dubbed: “The Swarm.”
Jaliyah was one of many cheerleaders who missed homecoming due to COVID-19. Cheerleaders, along with the rest of the athletes at DSU, were forced to follow a strict protocol for safety against COVID-19. Besides testing twice a week, athletes were asked to screen daily by 9 a.m., follow the mask mandate while practicing, and more. In addition, they were asked to be fully vaccinated, including the booster if eligible. Coach Eulonda Pfister stated that the protocol was not to make student-athletes feel they were being “punished,” but instead to help the Athletic Department “keep running,” and operate smoothly while teaching student-athletes how to take responsibility for their actions.
Other student athletes, such as rising junior, Konner Blount-Foster, felt that at times the protocols could be a bit confusing; however, testing was appropriate, then continued by stating they (football players and athletes alike) “are around a bunch of different people.”
Besides affecting the cheerleaders on the field, COVID-19 also affected their personal lives. Along with coaching, Mrs. Eulonda Pfister, is also a mother to three young children. Caring for them during a pandemic, whilst being surrounded by many college athletes, was something that she had to be cautious of regarding COVID-19. Her goal was to keep her children “as safe as possible,” especially since none of them was of age to receive the vaccine.
Not only did COVID-19 affect athletes on their respective fields/courts, but it also caused them to feel a shift in the classroom as well. When COVID-19 first struck the nation, it seemed no school was equipped for virtual learning. Konner Blount-Foster of Waldorf, Maryland, felt coming into college in a virtual setting, he was not prepared, and had to readjust to the student life. As a freshman-athlete Jaliyah had a little more assistance in her transition. All freshman athletes at Delaware State University are required to attend at least 6 hours of study hall, failure to comply resulted in consequences as well.
Atop of mandatory study hall, the social work major also managed the transition and schoolwork by getting in work whenever and wherever, she could. She stated that she completed work while on breaks from cheer, before and after practice, and more. She understood that time management was crucial and there were no excuses for missed work. She also stated that “healthy communication with her coaches” led to her success in the classroom. She approached the situation with a positive mindset and asked for help when needed, things that helped her achieve a stellar GPA. Although both Jaliyah and Konner have successfully moved to their next classification, they both prefer in-person, hands-on learning.
Although the cheer team is still trying to find a new normalcy, it has many things planned for this upcoming school year. Unlike the previous school year, tryouts for new and returning members were held in – person and attendees were able to advance to cheer camp much sooner than last year. Freshmen are expected to tryout out traditionally as well.
Coach Pfister looks forward to the cheer camp that is held in the middle of August, as well as to getting better overall. As the coach she will continue to encourage her cheerleaders to follow the policies and procedures issued from the Delaware State University athletic department to ensure that everyone is in compliance with their COVID-19 guidelines. As an active cheerleader, Jaliyah looks forward to traveling, which was limited this past season due to budget, as well as pushing her limits by excelling in areas such as stunting and harder material.
The cheerleading team has much to be excited for this approaching season, such as the football games, and for Jaliyah specifically, her first homecoming experience. Prior to COVID-19 former cheerleaders were allowed to cheer on the track with the current team as part of homecoming festivities; however, on October 12th, 2021, it was announced on the official Instagram page, @dsu_cheer, that no alumni would be able to participate due to COVID-19, so perhaps that is something that spectators and current cheerleaders can hope to see in the future, especially with the class of 2022 graduating. The new team will first unite the second week of August as they head to cheer camp, and from there final selections for the team will be made.
The university and spectators are encouraged to come watch The Swarm as they cheer on the Delaware State University football team on September 3rd, at 2:00 P.M. in their first match-up of the season against the Lincoln Lions.