For a cheerleader, one is the loneliest number.
“The only time I’ve ever been at an event with one cheerleader was when I was cheering for my brother’s Little League football team; I was seven,” said Kelli Rappard, cheer coach for the Wichita State Shockers.
So, the situation seemed painful to Kelli when Loyola, Wichita State’s opponent in the second round of this year’s Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball tournament, had just one cheerleader. The rest of the squad had to remain in Chicago because of conflicts with midterm exams.
The lone cheerleader, Maddie Kenney, had performed solo at the Ramblers’ opening victory, doing tumbling routines at timeouts. “Our fans were counting the amount of back handsprings she was doing at the timeouts to support her,” Kelli said.
Loyola’s victory meant the team would face Wichita State the next day, so Kelli told her squad about the lone Ramblers cheerleader. Rather than make fun of the situation, she said, “They immediately asked if they would be able to do stunts and things with her. I did not initiate this at all. I was hopeful that this was what they would do, and they exceeded my expectations without me even having to ask.”
After Kelli double-checked with the NCAA to make sure they weren’t breaking any rules, the Shockers’ cheerleaders asked Maddie to join them at timeouts.
“I totally thought they were kidding at first,” Maddie said.
The Shockers went above and beyond by including Maddie in an extension, raising her in the air, a stunt she had not been part of since high school.
“It’s our job as cheerleaders to encourage and spread team spirit, so it’s really awesome we had the opportunity to do it together,” Maddie said.
Kelli spent the game sitting with her counterpart from Loyola, cheer coach Kaneidra Everson, talking about cheerleading through Wichita State’s 59-42 victory, and neither thought that the combined squad’s performance was much of a big deal until the media picked up the story.
“To us, we were just showing good WSU hospitality and trying to include everybody,” Kelli said. “It made me very happy that those were the athletes we, the coaches, had chosen to come to that tournament, compete on our team for that school year and be ambassadors for our school and program. I think the overall message that we take away from this situation is just treat others how you want to be treated.”
Kaneidra noted that even though Loyola is the newest member of the Valley, “the family atmosphere that exists within the conference is unique and one of the things that makes it such a great league. It was a tremendous gesture of sportsmanship by Wichita State.”