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Huskies cheerleading no more: despondent team forced to return jerseys

By in Sports & Health

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

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