Former Pro Brings New Spirit to Cheer Squad

Hope Donnelly
Hope Donnelly

On a hot, end-of-summer Saturday afternoon, Hope Donnelly, the new Head Cheerleading Coach for The University of Tampa, completed the third and final day of tryouts with candidates in a chilly Cass Gymnasium.

Pleased with the strong turnout of almost 50 candidates for an approximately 18 member squad, Coach Donnelly was impressed with the core skill levels present in the candidates.

Many had been all-star cheerleaders, with a diverse background in dance, from high school and other colleges. Others brought technically advanced skills from gymnastics.

Also having to compete for the limited roster positions were 11 returning veterans.

Although no minimum requirements existed for entrance to the tryouts, each of the three mandatory days became progressively advanced for student evaluations.

Performances in basic spirit displays and entertainment of chants and jumping began each day, with additional tests of tumbling and stunting introduced in the second and third days.

No matter what skills an individual begins the squad with, Donnelly noted that a set goal for each member would be to perform a standing backhand spring.

“They’ve all worked really hard and showed their commitment to the team, so we’re really going to have a great group,” said Donnelly of the candidates she has evaluated.

At the time of the interview 36 students were remaining in contention, with the final team roster to be determined  by  Sept. 21.

Donnelly is the only UT staff member instructing the team, but has the aid of three student leaders on the team.

Two are returning veterans and the third to be determined at a later time.

After a respectable professional background in performance, Donnelly returns to collegiate cheerleading in her first season as a coach.

A dancer since the age of three, the Panama City Beach native started organized cheerleading at seven and continued throughout high school and college.

As a co-captain of the Eckerd College cheerleading team, a fellow member of UT’s conference, she went semi-professional in her last year in attendance and performed as a captain of the Tampa Bay Storm’s cheering squad.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and visual art, she expanded her professional career with seasons cheering for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Orlando Magic and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With the Lightning, she achieved the position of Entertainment Manager for the St. Petersburg Times Forum and spent the past four years improving the fan experience. Some of which are noted in her UT Athletics web site profile.

Gil Swalls, UT’s Associate Athletic Director, said that Donnelly possesses “an excellent combination of previous cheerleading experience, both in our [Sunshine State] conference and as a professional; she had the best experience for our needs.”

For her future plans Donnelly said, “fans at games are going to notice an increased level of interaction and the entertainment value the team brings.”

She also expressed an interest in possibly having the team formally compete in the upcoming spring season of cheering events.

Matthew Desousa can be contacted at

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