Pep in Their Step – Former cheerleaders share stories

Memories weren’t in short supply at Manchester University June 5-7.

Carefully polished and put on display in class luncheons, tours of buildings and by friends of days gone by just sitting together, their recitations filled the air around the North Manchester campus. Over those three days, a trio of retired school teachers, Kay (Browning) Sponseller, Jan (Stark) Swigert, and Sharon (Weaver) DuBois, found themselves recounting a brief history of cheerleading at then Manchester College.

“The squad numbers weren’t as big as they are today,” Sponseller noted of she and her friends’ experiences in the late 1960s. “We had six for football and four for basketball.”

“Those numbers were due to not having a lot of room [to cheer in],” DuBois added.

The closely knit groups were, in many cases, front and center for the halcyon days of Spartan athletics. From cheering on the many positive basketball results of future Hall of Famer and then national team invitee Dick Harris at the old campus gymnasium, located where the Science Center now stands, to Indiana State, the conference tournament, and beyond, or watching the late Jack Jarrett’s football teams battle at Burt Field, the fun times flashed through each of their eyes during the conversation.

“Do you remember Doug Smith?” Swigert quizzed her classmates. “He was one of the few male cheerleaders we had with us, and I’ll never forget him doing backflips from one end of the gym to the other.”

“I’ll never forget being at football and seeing one of the players’ arms look like a jigsaw puzzle [when he came off the field],” DuBois reflected. “There were times none of us knew [how they all got through a game].”

“[The court for basketball] was a stage as they used that building for theatre productions,” Sponseller said. “When it was time for games, they pulled out the bleachers for the students while the rest of the fans could sit down below in opera chairs. It was a great view for everyone.”

Beyond reminiscing about former residential homes on campus; legendary campus pranks; the fact that the food service used to be done in the dorms and so forth, the stories of how three women from Pierceton, Goshen, and Muncie found their way to North Manchester weren’t much different from those of students today.

Sponseller and Swigert both mentioned previous family members attending and close ties to the Church of the Brethren guiding them to Manchester. DuBois, the first of her family to attend college, made her decision on the friendliness of a small college after attending a small school. Those decisions led to lifelong impacts.

“There was such a sense of community on a campus where many big things happened,” Sponseller remembered. “The idea of beginning the nation’s first Peace Studies program, many famous people coming here, and remarkable entertainment including Duke Ellington and the Lettermen … it was wonderful.”

“I was and still am struck by how much of a liberal arts education [Manchester offers],” Swigert pointed out. “As an example, taking art and music may not have been much fun for me at that time, but now I look back on it fondly, as I understand what artists thought when I see paintings in museums, and I greatly enjoy classical music. It’s part of how this place makes you look at all sides of an issue.”

“I’d add in there the ability to develop close friendships,” DuBois said. “Kay and I get together for lunch from time to time, and I keep in contact with many of my other classmates.”

Three friends are adding to Manchester College/University’s ever-growing scrapbook …. Making memories much like current and future students experience every day in their collegiate careers.

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