Through the Student Lens – Athletics and Recreation affords students extracurricular opportunities to grow, lead and succeed

From varsity athletics to club sports and beyond, Athletics and Recreation offers students a multitude of opportunities to challenge themselves, grow and lead at Wheaton.

How has one student taken advantage of Athletics and Recreation to pursue her passion, gain lifelong leadership skills and give the Wheaton community a boost of morale when it’s needed most? Take a look “Through the Student Lens.”

Lena Welch ’22
Double Major: Elementary Education and Women’s and Gender Studies / Minor: Hispanic Studies
Hometown: Rockland, MA

Could you describe how you helped revitalize Wheaton’s cheer program and how you feel the cheer program helped create school pride for men’s and women’s basketball at a time when people can use a little boost?

When I first joined the cheerleading team my first year in fall 2018, the team was beginning to revitalize as it was a heavily senior group the prior year and our team was left with only four returning students. As soon as I joined the team, I felt a passion to become a leader and build the team. I became a captain my sophomore year. With a lot of help from the rest of the executive board, I was able to make big purchases such as new uniforms and practice equipment to help take our team to the next level. I truly believe that since my first semester in 2018, this team has grown so much in terms of both performance and respect from the community. Our biggest goal is to promote school spirit and positivity and get as many people involved on campus as possible. Having our team perform at halftime allows for a different audience to come to games, giving the men’s and women’s basketball teams some extra boosts of support while further promoting a close-knit community. We also have been able to foster a great relationship with both teams through our buddy system, which pairs each basketball player with a cheerleader who writes encouraging notes for them each game, in addition goodie bags for extra special games such as the home opener and senior game. We have all had so much fun building relationships with both teams and giving them extra boosts of positivity at all of their home games.

Wheaton prides itself on being a community of innovators and changemakers that encourages both learning and implementing leadership skills. How did this opportunity come about and how did you navigate the process as a student who wished to see change?

Cheerleading is a sport I have been passionate about my entire life, so it seemed like the perfect way to get involved in my first year at Wheaton. Since I had completely thrown myself into the team immediately, the students who were captains of the team during my first year suggested that I run for captain my sophomore year. They had created a strong base for me to work from as they began the shift to revitalizing our team, and I found myself communicating with both of them throughout the entire process. In terms of administration, Judy Franciosi, assistant athletics director of recreation and fitness, has made all the difference in growing our team. She always pushed me to be the best leader I could be and to focus on growing the team. Without her support and the endless hours she has given to our team over the years, we would not be as established as we are today. We also had a lot of help from Gavin Viano, director of athletics and recreation. Gavin has helped us be seen and perceived in the same way that varsity sports are seen at Wheaton, which has helped our team grow immensely. There is no clear timeline for how long it has taken our team to grow as we are still taking huge steps every day. In my first year, we started with only four returning members and ended the season with sixteen members, which was a huge step in growing our team. My sophomore year was the first time we had performed a halftime routine at my time at Wheaton, which was also a huge step for our team, in terms of performance. During my junior year, we focused on making big purchases, such as new uniforms, to help our team get to a new level. This year we have grown immensely because in the fall at try-outs, we had our largest student turnout ever. Through regularly meeting with the administration and doing a lot of outreach to the community, we have been able to grow, and I am confident that the team will continue to grow once I graduate.

How has this opportunity and the cheer team itself shaped your Wheaton experience and what are you most proud of?

Being a member of this team has given me my best friends and a family throughout my time at Wheaton, and I cannot imagine my college experience without it. Being a captain of the cheerleading team has been a highlight of my college experience and is something I am extremely proud of. I feel that being a captain over the last three years has allowed me to learn how to be a leader, which is an extremely valuable skill that I have been able to use both in and out of cheerleading, and that I will continue to use forever. I am most proud of seeing how far this team has come since my first year. I feel as though it is clear that we have grown in every aspect, from performance to creating more school spirit around campus. Our team has grown immensely and started something that I hope will continue to grow for years to come. It is an amazing feeling to be able to look back at how much I have been able to help grow a team in a sport that means so much to me.

What other benefits have materialized as a direct result of being a part of the recreational cheer team either for you or another student?

One thing that makes cheerleading different than other sports is the highlight of community involvement. Giving back to the community is a foundational part of cheerleading as a whole. Throughout my time here, we have been able to work with many outside communities and give back. One example that is close to my heart is our work with the nonprofit, empowerHER, which provides events and mentorship to girls who have experienced the loss of their mothers. I have interned for this organization throughout college, so I was so happy to give back to them as a team. We have helped the organization by assembling gift sets for enrolled girls around Mother’s Day, along with hosting a fundraiser in 2019 in collaboration with the Wheatones. In addition to promoting positivity around campus, it is a core goal to promote positivity among our outside community as well, which is a very special aspect of this team.

Outside of the cheer team, can you talk about other offerings from Wheaton Athletics and Recreation that you utilize? How would you recommend fellow students can take part in Athletics and Recreation activities at Wheaton?

Getting involved in Wheaton Athletics and Recreation is an amazing way to fully immerse yourself in the Wheaton community. While I am fully confident the cheer team is a family, I am also confident every club and varsity team on campus fosters the same environment. Getting involved in sports at Wheaton will guarantee you a family for your four years here. Outside of joining a team, Wheaton rec allows many ways for all students to get involved. Throughout the year, there are always events that recreation puts on, from obstacle courses to scavenger hunts, to the Head of the Peacock Regatta, there are countless ways to get involved on campus through athletics and recreation. Every event is always so fun, I recommend that everyone get involved!

Through the Student Lens
Lena is just one of the many engaging students here at Wheaton. As parents and guardians, you are an integral part of our community. “Through the Student Lens” brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play and the experiences they gain during their time here at Wheaton.