For the last two years, the University of Montana dance team fundraised money to go with the basketball teams to the Big Sky Conference tournaments in March. The team opted on Jan. 17 to start a GoFundMe for the 2020 season.
UM Dance already raised over $7,000 online since the start of the GoFundMe, which is still short of the team’s $10,000 goal. Dance coach Colby Harms noted that the GoFundMe is only part of the equation to make it to the tournament.
“The girls also go around town to local businesses and ask supporters and donors and people that just love Grizzly athletes to support,” said Harms. “A lot of people step up and say yes.”
The dance team is made up of 13 women who audition for the team, and members usually have trained in studios since a young age, explained Mary Fahlman, a third-year member on the team. During her freshman year she tried out via a video call from her home in Canada.
“I’ve trained since I was three years old to get to where I am now,” Fahlman said.
To prepare for performances at Griz athletic events, the team practices three days a week and also does weight training in the UM Athletic Champion Center.
UM Dance and the cheer team form the spirit squad. At every home game, the spirit squad creates chants together. The dance team races onto the court during timeouts to perform dance numbers, often with Monte joining in.
Harms and Claire Kronenberger co-direct the spirit squad.
Brynn Molloy oversees the spirit squad for Griz Athletics. explained that a recent change in how the tournament is run sparked the team’s fundraising.
Molloy said the athletic department used to fund the dance team’s travel expenses, back when UM was a hot team host. A hot team host refers to when the best team in the conference is selected to host the tournament. However, the Big Sky conference elected in 2015 to choose neutral locations to host future championships. Now, since both basketball teams always leave town for the tournament for a week, Molloy said the price for the spirit squad to attend the conference has increased significantly.
Since the decision, the tournament has been hosted in Reno, Nevada, and this year, in Boise, Idaho. The tournament changes guarantee that all 12 teams in the conference get to play in the tournament. Before 2016, only the top eight teams could play.
The change also guaranteed both basketball teams would travel every year for the Big Sky Conference championship, which increased annual dance team expenses.
Both teams are partially funded by Griz Athletics and rely on additional support from fundraisers and private donations. The cheer team travels with Griz football while dance travels with basketball. Harms said the fundraising motivates the dance team to create a high-intensity environment.
“They are the face of the game-day atmosphere,” Molloy said. “The players take care of the action on the court or field, but the cheer and dance teams are the ones who try to get the fans into it.”
In addition to hyping up crowds, the dance team works on community service projects in Missoula and on the road. Last year the team went to a children’s hospital in Boise. Molloy hopes to do that and more in this upcoming tournament.
“In between games, we don’t just twiddle our thumbs,” Molloy said. “The dancers will have study hours and do community involvement down there too.”
The 2020 Big Sky Championship starts on March 9 and goes until March 14. It features both the men’s and women’s teams.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the cheer team is funded by Griz Athletics and does not need to aggressively fundraise. Both cheer and dance teams are partially funded by Griz Athletics and rely on additional support from fundraisers and donations. Colby Harms and Claire Kronenberger are head coaches for the spirit squad.