Game Starter: Steve Solberg, spirit squad coordinator and head cheer coach
Steve Solberg, head cheer coach and spirit squad coordinator for Purdue, stands on the sidelines during the Notre Dame football game Oct. 1. Solberg, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate and no stranger to the spirit of Big Ten athletics, brings a fresh perspective to Purdue's spirit program. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
When the crowds gather for this weekend's Homecoming game, they'll certainly notice the results of months of hard work for Steve Solberg. As head cheer coach and spirit squad coordinator, on game day Solberg organizes more than 50 student-athletes on Purdue's spirit squads, including the five Purdue Pete mascots. This weekend, Solberg will be responsible for coordinating the spirit squad's biennial Alumni Day, an event where approximately 100 Purdue cheer alumni will take to the field and cheer with the current squad.
Since coming to Purdue a year and a half ago, Solberg has continued to look for ways to evolve the program, implementing cheer clinics to better scout incoming students and changing formations at football games. For January of 2012, he is also organizing Purdue's first-ever cheer competition, the Boilermaker Bash!, which will host all-star and school teams from across the Midwest in Mackey Arena this winter.
How did you become interested in the administrative side of cheering?
I cheered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and that's where I fell in love with it. After graduation, I began coaching at a local high school while also volunteering at my alma mater. Those experiences showed me that I wanted to make cheering a career and I knew that if I found a full-time position, I would do it in a heartbeat. When the position at Purdue opened up, I knew it was the place for me. Big Ten athletics, crowds of over 40,000 people and a successful athletic program make Purdue a great place to cheer.
What are your duties as spirit coordinator and head cheer coach?
I oversee two spirit squads for home and away football games, home men's and women's basketball games and home volleyball games. In the fall, the Gold Squad, a 24-person all-girl team, and the Black Squad, a co-ed team with 26 cheerleaders, both cheer at home football games. In the winter, between the two teams, I form a third team that holds separate training sessions to prepare for a national cheer competition in January.
In addition to the cheerleaders, I also handle the scheduling of Purdue Pete for any event that he is requested for. That's always interesting because Pete's schedule can range from wedding receptions to nursing home visits to various activities around campus.
What kind of preparation do you do for the football season?
During the summer, I plan the logistics, like getting practice facilities, deciding who will travel to away games and gameday rosters. I also continue outreach to high school students, teaching clinics and getting Purdue's name out there. The squads also come to campus for intermittent practice weekends. In August, we attend cheer camp in Wisconsin, which hosts thousands of cheerleaders, mascots and dancers from conferences across the nation.
Throughout the fall season, I spend a lot of time coordinating and leading practices. Our athletes train on Tuesday and Friday mornings with strength and conditioning coaches in addition to team practice three times a week. During Thursday practices, we replicate a game situation as much as possible. The idea is to run through routines and plan cheers to coincide with band cadences so that we can anticipate game day as much as possible.
What is game day like for the spirit squad?
All five of the Purdue Petes work on game days. One will visit with fans before the game at tailgates and events while the other four divide up game-time responsibilities between the four quarters. Before the game, I send one cheering squad to Slayter Hill for the Thrill on the Hill while the other squad visits tailgaters. While all of this is happening, I'm coordinating with the visiting squads, helping them find the locker rooms and getting them accommodated. During the game, I oversee the cheerleaders and make sure that routines are performed correctly and safely. It can be a long day, but it's worth it because nothing compares to cheering in Ross-Ade on Saturdays.