Miners ‘Bring It’, Win National Cheerleading Championship
By Joe Velarde
The University of Texas at El Paso cheerleaders made a splash in Daytona Beach last weekend when it won its first ever National Cheerleading Association Co-Ed Division Championship.
The 19-member team, along with Miner mascot Paydirt Pete, beat 12 other universities including Michigan, Marshall and powerhouse Central Oklahoma, which had taken home the top prize the past four years. To win the competition was a dream come true for the team.
“We would’ve been happy to have finished in the top five,” said Jessenia Murillo, a sophomore communications major. “This is so much more than any of us could’ve expected.”
Head coach David Vasquez credits the team’s tenacity and chemistry as the winning ingredients.
“We needed to compete at the highest level to match the challenges of other teams that are used to competing on the national stage,” he said.
The team has competed for smaller national cheerleading organizations such as the Universal Cheerleading Association, and other similar events. This has been its biggest competition to date.
But there were some added emotions behind the victory, several team members said.
Before the team hit the stage, they each huddled together and dedicated their performance to Ronny Jo Villareal, 2001 UTEP alum, former cheerleader, and a friend of Vasquez. Villareal, a successful Florida businesswoman, wife and mother, died of breast cancer almost a month before their championship performance.
She visited the team last year during a camp to deliver a message of strength and perseverance.
Kaleena Roche, a senior kinesiology major, said Villareal’s memory was a powerful motivational tool.
“We all remembered her message of ‘be strong, cheer strong.’ It kept our spirits up and helped us to give the best performance we could give,” Roche said.
Vasquez said that while Villareal never cheered with this team, the former captain touched the hearts of every team member.
“She taught the girls to go out and give it everything they’ve got - to appreciate life and to have no fear,” he said. “Her message helped propel them to success. It’s been a special moment for everyone.”
To watch a video of the Miner’s championship winning routine, visit varsity.com, click on the 2010/11 NCA/NDA College National Challenge button on the front page, then type in University of Texas at El Paso in the search bar.