New AU sport “STUNT” to have inaugural 2020 season


Evan Laux

The AU cheer team practices a STUNT routine provided by USA Cheer


After over a year of careful planning, time and energy, the Ashland University cheer and dance coaching staff and athletic department has brought a new varsity sport to the university: STUNT.

“We’re always looking to see what sports are out there, and president Campo has always said to me to try to look at sports that we might thinking about having added to the catalog and put that in your back pocket,” Director of Athletics Al King said.

According to USA Cheer, the national governing body for sport cheering in the United States, STUNT “removes the crowd-leading element and focuses on the technical and athletic components of cheer, including partner stunts, pyramids, basket tosses, group jumps and tumbling.”

STUNT will be an addition to the already present AU cheer and dance teams, led by head coach Denise Farnsworth and assistant coach Brandy Marquette.

Farnsworth began her career with AU three years ago in 2017, where she quickly began thinking of ways to bolster the cheer and dance program and build up its athletes.

“My first season here, I had a cheerleader show me a STUNT video she found online and I watched it and thought ‘we totally need to get involved in this,’ and then it just grew from there,” Farnsworth said.

STUNT is one of the fastest growing collegiate women’s sports in the nation, along with wrestling and bowling according to King. It is currently being played at the college level by 14 NCAA institutions as a varsity sport, and by 26 NCAA schools as a club sport.

“We’ve looked at women’s bowling, and we’ve added lacrosse and men’s tennis,” King said. “I really wanted to add another women’s sport and increase opportunities for women. This is one we ended up selling on and thought had the most potential.”

King’s decision to add STUNT to the sport catalog at AU was due in part to the success and growing numbers of universities that have tested the water with STUNT already.

In Ohio, three schools currently have varsity STUNT teams, with AU being the fourth. Tiffin University and Hiram College have existing programs that began within the past three years, while Ursuline College joins AU in their inaugural 2020-21 season.

“It’s pretty huge in Michigan right now and you can see it trickling down into Ohio, a lot of the high schools in the Toledo area are really interested as well,” Farnsworth said.

Fellow Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference schools Davenport University, Grand Valley State University and Ferris State University all have STUNT programs. Davenport has the only other varsity program currently, while Grand Valley and Ferris both have club teams.

“Schools usually decide to add this stuff after they see if it works at other places,” King said. “If we have some success with STUNT and it goes well, there’s probably more of a chance that other schools will add it. There needs to be six schools with the program within the GLAIC to have a conference championship so for now that isn’t a thing.”

Instead of conference championships, a national championship is held by USA cheer each year. Next year, the championship will take place on May 1-3, 2020 at the University of Oklahoma.

12 games must be played to qualify for nationals. Although a defined schedule has not been made yet, Farnsworth says that the season will likely consist of six double headers played over six weekends in which four to six teams will show up to a single event, much like a track and field meet.

In a competition, two teams perform an identical routine before a panel of judges. The judges are looking for mistakes made by either team, in which they will take score deductions.

There are four quarters: partner stunts, pyramids and tosses, jumps and tumbling and a team routine. The team with the best score of a particular routine will win a point, then have the ability to choose the next routine.

“We have a very competitive sport here and that will attract competitive women,” King said.

King and Farnsworth hope to bring in around 25 new women into the program in its first year.

“Competitive cheerleading has always been big for younger girls, but it’s new for our age group and skill level,” junior cheerleader Megan Kucharski said. “It’s gonna make our group a lot better as a whole and bring a lot of new girls in.”

Kucharski is on the leadership team for STUNT and has been apart of AU cheer since she was a freshman. She was a gymnast when she was younger, and has been cheerleading since she was 11.

“I think STUNT will take our exposure to a new level,” she said. “It will not only help the cheerleading aspect and make our program better as a whole, but also how we give back to the community with our service.”

The new STUNT team will be a completely separate entity from the existing sideline cheer squad, and each will have differing scholarship opportunities.

“When you look at sideline cheer, it’s more of a support system for other teams,” Farnsworth said. “STUNT is its own team that goes and competes head to head with other teams just like any other varsity sport. It’s really just an entirely new aspect of competitive cheer that hasn’t been seen at the college level too much yet, it’s going to be big.”