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RUOFF: K-STATE'S UNKNOWN COACH

RUOFF: K-STATE'S UNKNOWN COACH

By Mark Janssen

Dani Ruoff likes to first off clear the air.
 
One, cheerleading is a sport.

Two, cheerleaders are student-athletes.
 
Three, attitude is the No. 1 priority for cheerleaders.
 
Four, having fun is the primary goal.
 
Oh, and five ... they're all not "ditzy blondes," laughs Ruoff.
 
"We want to have a blast," said the Wildcat cheer coach. "It's a lot of work, and takes a lot of time and effort, but it can be so much fun."
 
Ruoff's philosophy is to have one cheer team that includes 45 to 55 men and women, who rotate among the sports of football and volleyball in the fall, and the two basketball teams in the winter.
 
"I want each kid to have the opportunity to not only cheer for football, but all the sports," said the fourth-year coach, who says that "purple" has always been her favorite color.  "I think it's more fun to have a taste of each sport."
 
The entire squad cheers for home football games, while by NCAA rule, no more than 12 can cheer at home basketball games, and a rotation of six cheerleaders and six Classy Cats go to away football games and postseason basketball tournaments.
 
Each season starts anew, which will include tryouts that will be staged today for the 2011-12 Kansas State cheer team.
 
"Every team starts fresh.  I think that keeps people on their toes," said Ruoff, who said the cheer program is under the umbrella of the athletic department, but the team is under the direct leadership of Dr. Frank Tracz, the university's Director of Bands.  "No one is guaranteed a position the next year, which means they better continue work to get better."
 
A year ago, Ruoff estimates that 240 indicated an interest in the K-State cheer team, with 97 actually trying out in person, plus another 15 by video.
 
Ruoff, who cheered for Montana State and later an All-Star USA Spirit squad based in Hawaii, says a high percentage of those trying out have been past cheerleaders at high school or community colleges, but that's not mandatory.
 
While there are no prerequisites, Ruoff says it's always a plus to have gymnastics and tumbling experience "... if done correctly and safely.  But it's not required."
 
Under Ruoff, safety will always come before those daring snazzy moves.
 
"We teach from the ground up with our fundamentals," said Ruoff.  "Some team members, and even parents, aren't happy about that, but I'd much rather have someone mad at us than in the hospital with an injury."
 
NCAA rules are structured on what routines are allowed on a hard basketball floor, as opposed to a slightly softer surface like a football field.  For example, in basketball the highest height allowed is one individual standing on the shoulders of another, plus, basket tosses are not allowed.
 
Nothing, however, is more important than attitude and work-ethic.

"You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't love it and don't have a good work ethic and if you're not reliable, it doesn't matter."
 
Oh, how about the importance of being cute, perky, or pretty?
 
"I want my team members to look healthy and be healthy," Ruoff said. "I don't have weight requirements, and I do not have height requirements.  I only want my team members to look neat and clean.  Our squad does work with a strength and conditioning coach, and we have two mandatory workouts each week, plus a third night that is optional, so they have to be physically fit."
 
Tryouts will consist of six areas: attitude and work-ethic, skills, fight song/Wabash dance routine, cheering, partner stunts and an interview.
 
A panel of five or six individuals, including Ruoff, and her assistant coach Chris Morris, will then grade each individual 1 through 10 with the 2011-12 cheer squad announced shortly after the tryouts conclude this evening.
 
Wait, have we forgotten someone?
 
Yeah, what about Willie Wildcat?
 
Ahhh, everything is secretive about Willie starting with his name, and his never heard voice.
 
"I'm called Momma Cat because I take care of Willie," said Ruoff.  "Willie is the No. 1 fan of K-State.  All of his first priorities are the K-State teams, but he also makes appearances from everything from baby showers, to weddings, to area high school appearances.
 
"Willie is one of the strong traditions of K-State and his identity is very much a secret," said Ruoff.  "That includes the tryouts.  There are separate tryouts for Willie.  The confidentiality is part of the fun of it."
 
With 42 trying out last year, and even more showing an interest this year, tryouts are most unique. There's the art of wearing that mega-head, walking on bleachers wearing that mega-head, learning to sign Willie's name, plus being physically fit enough to run with the K-State flag and, hopefully, do dozens of push-ups according to the number of points the Wildcat football team scores on a given Saturday afternoon.
 
"History says that Willie has always been a male, but there's a rumor that the first Willie way back when was a female," said Ruoff.  "It's for someone who wants to be a part of K-State, a part of the game day atmosphere, and be willing to commit a lot of time.  Willie can make between three and 10 appearances a week.  For home football games, Willie's day can start at 6 a.m. and go into the evening."
 
Cheering at K-State is a work for free proposition and can be most time consuming.  This past November, members of the team rotated through 24 events - football, volleyball and men's and women's basketball - in a 30-day period.
 
This year's team will be off during the summer, but asked to return to K-State on Aug. 17 for what Ruoff terms a "four-day boot camp" prior to the start of classes in preparation for the first football game.
 
"Once that first game hits, we're off and running," said Ruoff.


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