By Cecily Sakrison
With a mission to boost the energy and enthusiasm at over 75 University of Utah sporting events a year, the U Spirit Squad is expert at supporting others through their time and talents. So it comes as no surprise that when they took the stage this summer over 6,000 miles from their home courts it was in service to the next generation of performers.
This is the third year that coach Jamie Duncan Plott and members of U Spirit Squad have traveled to China as special guest instructors at a cheer and dance camp hosted by Beijing Normal University. Held at locations throughout the country, the week-long camp brings nearly 300 children aged 10-15 years from all over China to elevate their performance skills.
The guest teaching invitation grew out of the Office for Global Engagement’s innovative China Coaches program, which brings coaches and sports teachers from universities across China to study with University of Utah Athletics coaches and College of Health faculty. Participants stay at the U campus for three months to complete training in coaching technique, team building, recruiting, sports nutrition, sports psychology, and injury prevention. In 2016, cheerleading was a featured discipline in the program and connections were made that have taken the partnership to new realms.
Since then, the U Spirit Squad has taught in Baotou in Inner Mongolia, Guiyang in Southwest China, and spent this year’s trip teaching in Datong–a city known for its ancient Chinese Buddhist temple grottoes.
During their downtime, the nine U students visited the famous grottoes, along with the Hanging Temple, and the Great Wall. “This was my first time out of the country,” said sophomore Jessica Murry. “It was cool to get such a big opportunity, especially since Utah can be kind of a bubble.” Murry was struck by visiting historical sites that she had studied in Art History. “Suddenly, I’m standing right in front of what I’ve only read about,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Duncan Plott has seen students experience that awe before and noted that this trip is a first-time international encounter for many participants. “Most never dreamed they would ever go to someplace as far as China. It’s unreal for them. They come back with their eyes opened to really loving other cultures.”
For senior Kylee Sainsbury the highlight of the experience is “definitely the teaching. And seeing the kids with their phones out taking pictures and asking for our autographs–we feel famous.” Sainsbury has traveled with the team to teach twice now. “It’s such an honor,” she said. “I’m so grateful and humbled to be part of this program.”
When asked if it was difficult to teach across a language barrier, sophomore Bella Fanelli-Poole noted the beauty of their shared discipline. “We didn’t need to speak–we could bond over dance.”