Huskies cheerleading no more: despondent team forced to return jerseys

Friday night lights, marching bands, tailgating, fireworks and Huskies cheerleaders — they’re all part of the rich football tradition at the U of S.

Sadly, however, one of these facets has been removed from Huskies football culture and will no longer be found at Griffiths Stadium.

It’s the Huskies cheerleading team.

Cheer team, we like your hustle. That's why it was so hard to cut you.

Perhaps “cheer team formerly known as the Huskies” is the more accurate term.

Forbidden to stunt at the Sept. 9 game between the Huskies and University of Regina Rams, the cheer team showed up anyway to make a statement. That statement came in the form of custom made t-shirts.

“We are all Huskies,” read the front of the shirts. “Except the cheerleading team,” read the back.

In an unexpected move by Huskie Athletics, the 20-person co-ed team has been prohibited from operating under the athletic program’s name and logo, and can no longer perform at games.

Huskie Athletics has the Huskies name and logo copyrighted but, according to the Star Phoenix, lacks a policy regulating its use. Right now, it is reserved for the organization’s 15 Canadian Interuniversity Sport teams.

In June, the cheer team’s head coach Todd Knihnitski received a letter from Huskie Athletics’ lawyers notifying him of the decision to disallow the team’s use of the name and logo. The letter also demanded that the team return all their brand new gear and uniforms.

Knihnitski was flabbergasted at the legal document, given his longstanding relationship with Huskie Athletics. A former Huskies wrestler, Knihnitski doesn’t hold any ill will towards athletic director Basil Hughton or Huskie Athletics. Rather, he disagrees with how things played out.

“I respect Basil. I didn’t agree with the way they handled it. I think Huskie Athletics needs to revisit this whole thing,” said Knihnitski. “I think they’re restructuring. He’s doing his job. I’m trying to advocate for the athletes.”

When asked why Huskie Athletics didn’t meet with the cheer team to announce the decision rather than sending a letter, Hughton replied, “It was out of my hands.”

He, too, wishes the situation would have been handled differently.

As to the abrupt nature of the decision, Hughton repeatedly said that Huskie Athletics wants to “move in a new direction.”

Somewhat of a cheer guru, Knihnitski, 36, has been coaching the Huskies since 2005. He also operates his own private gym and cheer team in Saskatoon under the name Prairie Fire Cheerleading.

Shanda Leftley, the cheer team’s co-captain, is still upset at what happened.

“It was out of the blue. Just the way they did it really hurt us. It was in the works for a while and we had no warning,” said Leftley. “We like going to football games and we like being a part of that and now we no longer get to do it. We no longer get to represent our athletic program in the sport that we’re in either.”

Following the legal document sent by Huskie Athletics, Hughton agreed to meet with Leftley and other co-captains Ashely Haugen and Brayden Obed to discuss the situation.

They arrived at a compromise.

The cheer team will still function, but independent of the Huskies. They will be registered as a club under the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union.

The other issue was the new jerseys the team had just bought.

Initially, when the cheer team was asked to return all of their gear and Huskies-affiliated clothing, they were devastated. This was going a little far, said Leftley, especially since the team purchased new uniforms and clothing last season after fundraising thousands of dollars. Had they known Huskie Athletics was going to dissolve the team, they never would have bought the jerseys. She felt that this was salt in the wound.

“We wouldn’t have bought a ton of new stuff. I understand why we have to give it back. It still hurts because we really liked representing that with the uniforms. And it was our money so that’s the part that really sucked.”

The team returned their uniform tops with the Huskies logo on them but are allowed to keep their bags, shirts and skirts as long as they are patched over.

“They could have taken our jackets and our bags. They could have asked for all that stuff back,” said Leftley. “At least they let us keep that stuff as long as we get the logo covered up because that will offset a lot of the cost for us instead of having to get all new stuff. Now we just have to get new tops,” she explained.

Nonetheless, Leftley, a fifth-year base, is still taken aback by Huskie Athletics’ stance.

“It’s technically their property — the U of S, the dog logo and stuff — it’s all copyrighted, but the fact that we had to give them back is kind of weird,” she said.

“Anyone can go buy a Huskie Athletics shirt and wear that anywhere so what would be the difference having these old uniforms we no longer wear in competition — even to keep as a keepsake, a momento or anything?”

For now, the jerseys reside in Hughton’s office, but will likely be put into storage sometime soon.

Leftley said they will be keeping the name and logo of their new cheer team simple. Although no names have been set in stone, once ratified by the USSU, Leftley anticipates they will go with the University of Saskatchewan Cheerleading Team.

“I think everyone still wants to represent… the University of Saskatchewan,” said Leftley.

Hughton plans to introduce what is called the “Green Team” to Huskies’ events — essentially replacing the cheerleaders.

Hughton said the Green Team will function to hype up fans, performing more of a promotional role as opposed to the stunts and routines the cheer team delivers.

Competing in Canadian Nationals in Toronto on Dec. 3 and 4, both Knihintski and Leftley think it would be fitting to bring home a championship and pull off a record finish in a year that marks the team’s 20th anniversary. They’re hoping a championship might open the eyes of Huskie Athletics.

Knihintski, who will continue coaching the cheer team, indicated that there is a chance the team will return to the sidelines at Griffiths Stadium in years to come, but not in Huskies uniforms.

Hughton didn’t rule out the possibility either.

“Never say never,” said the athletic director.


photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

  • Kats

    Wow! How could that have been handled with any less grace or respect for the cheer team? I don't think it's possible. The head coach should be ashamed that he let it unfold like that. Out of his hands? What a cop out! It's too bad that such an impersonal spirit should dominate Huskie athletics.

  • Dorian Geiger

    Kats,

    I don't know if you misread or mistyped, but it was Huskies Athletics director, Basil Houghton, along with other Huskies Athletics officials who slammed the door on the cheer team this season, not the cheer team's head coach. That coach, Todd Knihnitski, did everything in his power to to maintain what had been built up since 1991. You nailed the impersonal spirit thing for sure though on the part of Huskies Athletics. Hopefully the cheer team formerly known as the Huskies can kill it at nationals and bring home a championship title. That should smarten Huskies Athletics up.

  • Judy

    If they so interested in supporting and promoting spirit at games why did they leave at half time of two football games last year (think one was a playoff game) and didn't see them at the girls final basketball game or other sporting events?

    • Annoymous

      The reason why the cheer team left halfway through the football game was because of other priorities and commitments. By mid-October, the cheer team practices roughly 5 times a week, on top of game prep, to prepare for the competition the team goes to in Toronto. The cheer team was disappointed that they couldn't watch the end of the playoff game but a scheduled practice was on the same day as the football game. Were you there for the Black Out game of 2009? It was Thanksgiving weekend, 1st big snow storm of the season and -40 weather. Only 4,000 fans at that game, the cheerleaders were there stunting on pure ice and 2 feet of snow.
      As far as Basketball is concerned, the cheer team was never asked to perform at basketball games. The only request the cheer team had was a last minute request when the Men's team won the banner and the cheer team stood in the background for the pep rally.

  • Anonymous

    Their head coach Todd is a total hot head. I'm sure this stemmed from an argument he got into with the rest of the staff at the university. Cheerleading hardly contributes to team moral and it certainly isn't a 'sport' in it's own right– good riddance. Whatever money the UofS was giving to them can be better spent on other programs!

    • Anonymous

      We were the only "Huskie" team that received absolutely no funding whereas even the band receives funding from the university. Plus we make a routine and compete at nationals in Toronto, the States, etc, all while fundraising our own money to do so. Don't let your personal feud with Todd let your irrational judgement get the best of you and get your facts straight!

    • Jane Smith

      Competitive cheerleading is a sport and that is the type of cheerleading that this team does. A sport is defined as physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively. Well cheerleading meets all of those criteria. Cheerleading has an international governing body called the IFC and competitive cheer is practiced around the world. And how can you say that it hardly contributes to team moral? Every member of a cheer team has to be in sync and working together in order to be successful. I have never seen a sport with more team moral then competitive cheerleading. Get your facts straight before you make a fool of yourself next time and perhaps watch a competitive squad perform before you post.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kzl2ESWYT2s&fe

    • TEst

      While i know that they fundraise any money they have, i agree that todd is a total hot head who should be removed as the coach of the huskies.