Sports teams can play a key role in the makeup of a university, so it’s no surprise Loyola will be adding three new varsity teams to their athletic department.
In the 2016-17 academic year, Loyola’s athletic department will add swimming, competitive cheer and competitive dance as varsity athletic teams to their program.
Brett Simpson, director of athletics and wellness, believes that these additional teams will increase the athletic department’s national presence and also foster more student participation in collegiate athletics.
“Adding these new programs will complement our already strong athletic department and help us become more visible locally as well as nationally. It will also allow us to grow from 150 students to 300 students by 2020,” Simpson said.
Contrary to what most universities do when adding varsity athletic teams, Johnathan Wojciechowski, associate athletic director, said that Loyola will not be seeking to join a different athletic conference within the NAIA.
“At this time the addition of these programs will not dictate any movement between conference or national association affiliation. Cheer and dance are recognized by the NAIA as an ‘emerging sport’. The SSAC has been at the forefront of this movement, hosting several competitive cheer exhibitions at the conference level,” Wojciechowski said.
For members of these current athletic teams, such as Imani Williams, cheerleading captain and English literature junior, being recognized as a varsity sport has been a goal for quite some time.
“That was my ultimate goal, to get the cheerleading team to not only be noticed, but noticed in the most positive light possible. The process of creating a team that could be recognized by the university took some time and patience, but we made it happen by the grace of God,” Williams said.
Though Williams will graduate prior to the cheerleading team’s inaugural year as a varsity team, she is thrilled by the lasting impact she’s leaving on not only the school’s athletic program, but also on the current and future members of her team.
“I believe the young women aspiring to be a part of the Loyola Wolfpack will get an amazing experience because this team was created with them in mind. That sounds a bit cliché; however, in taking on the task of being the captain of a team that was handed over to me in pieces, I knew my end goal was to take this team as is and turn it into a sport recognized by the university,” Williams said.