From the moment they enter the arena, the Texas Southern University Tigers cheer squad is all business.
They mingle with one another in front of the stands, wearing matching gray and purple warm-ups and pristine white gym shoes.
“We usually try to be among the first people on the scene, and we are always professional. Coach tells us there’s eyes on us at all times, even when we don’t know it,” Jamia Smith, a sophomore on the squad, said.
The women regard the opportunity to represent their school as an honor, one that they wouldn’t trade in for anything else.
“You would think a bunch of 20-somethings would want to be on spring break trips instead of here – but we really do want to be here. We like being around each other,” Kennedy Torres, a freshman participating in her first NCAA tournament, said.
Traveling with the team means spending lots of time away from their families back home. Luckily, the women have found a second family in the student body at TSU.
“We don’t get overlooked. The team looks out for us and we look out for them, so anytime that we have the opportunity to be here for our team, we will,” Smith said.
And the support extends beyond the walls of the UD Arena. Not all TSU fans could fly out to Dayton to show their support, so a viewing party is being held back on campus. Smith describes how the student center is decked out in blown-up headshots of the players.
With the support comes a humble confidence. The cheerleaders boast of the players’ talent and look forward to the upcoming days of travel.
“But no matter what happens … we have each other’s back. We always bleed maroon and gray,” Smith said, lining up with her TSU family for tipoff.
The Tigers outscored opponent North Carolina Central University 64-46 to advance in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.