The Ohio State All-Girl Cheerleading team is on the mat for a full dress rehearsal the Saturday before it departs for nationals – that’s the way coach Joey Delaney ran the program since 1998.
There was a notable absence this past Saturday, though – Delaney wasn’t there.
Delaney, 39, died Thursday at 7:55 p.m. at The Wexner Medical Center at OSU after experiencing difficulty breathing at the RPAC.
In keeping with tradition, the team gathered on the mat Saturday at the Jesse Owens North Recreation Center to get its prep work in before leaving for Daytona Beach, Fla., Wednesday, where the team will participate in the National Collegiate Cheerleading nationals. A crowd of about 80 people assembled as the team, donning its red bows and starch-white uniforms with a “Block-O” on the front, ran through its routines.
There were tears and long embraces at the Saturday training session, which was equal parts preparation for the upcoming competition and a chance to honor Delaney, who guided the team to a 2012 Club Big Ten cheerleading title.
Saturday also marked the first time any current member of the team practiced without the coach they adore.
Christine Stearns, a first-year in pharmaceutical science, said the sadness in the gym was tangible.
“You could see the look in everyone’s faces (Saturday) – we were not mentally prepared,” Stearns said. “We were freaking out. We were so nervous. Most of us haven’t been in this gym since last practice. It was like, we don’t want to walk in here and see the mat and get upset and everything. But we have to do what we have to do.”
The crying and sadness was frequently drowned out by the blasts of pop music that rocked the gym. The smiles of the team members returned as they burst onto the mat to demonstrate their high-energy routines.
Sadness would creep back, though – after finishing the first routine, team members took several minutes to compose themselves. Part of this, Stearns said, was to tend to nagging injuries.
Stearns added that the team was also missing Delaney.
“A lot of the girls were just upset in general because he wasn’t there,” Stearns said.
In addition to the support and critiquing you’d expect from a cheerleading coach, Delaney provided a moral compass for his players, Faith Anne Roche, a third-year in psychology, told The Lantern.
Roche cheered with the OSU club team for two years, and described Delaney as her mentor.
“He was that inspiration that everyone needs in a coach. He was just, like, the ultimate coach. When something was wrong … he was always there for you doing whatever he could,” Roche said. “He taught me a lot of life skills. How to be determined and how to push through. He just taught you how to get through anything.”
Delaney’s training might serve the team well as it prepares for the trip to Florida without a formally recognized coach.
Katie Troha, a 2011 graduate of OSU and team alumna, decided to travel with the team after hearing of Delaney’s death and will carry out some of his usual duties, like managing team funds and driving a rental van.
By her own admission, Troha is inexperienced compared to Delaney. She is also still familiarizing herself with the current team’s routines and stunts.
There was no doubt the team would continue with its planned trip to Florida, it just wasn’t collectively old enough to do so without some supervision, Troha said while clutching a can of Monster energy drink.
“At this point, there is no replacing Joey,” Troha said. “But as far as the alumni that are still in the Columbus area that would be able to go … it just so happened that I would be able to work it out with my schedule. Now we’re working on getting there and switching flights around. I don’t know, it’s been kind of a mess.”
Marci Hasty, associate director of OSU Recreational Sports programs, will also accompany the team to Florida.
In an email to The Lantern, Hasty said it was important to support their OSU teams in times of difficulty.
“We want to be as supportive as we can,” Hasty said. “Both in terms of helping them finalize plans for nationals, as well as providing the support they need to deal with the loss of a coach.”
There was a sense of duty and serving Delaney that pervaded the Jesse Owens North dress rehearsal.
“This is what was scheduled,” Troha said. “This was Joey’s schedule. This is how the team is always run. The Saturday before nationals is always dress rehearsal for the team. We go full out. We need to keep that structure that Joey has had in place the whole time.”
Roche described a “different kind of empowerment” on Saturday.
“Now it’s, ‘We’re going to do this for Joey, and we’re going to make him proud,'” Roche said. “And I think, yeah, it’s really hard, and you don’t want to start thinking about it. But you know that if you do your best, and you do everything that he taught you, you’re going to make him so proud. That’s all the empowerment that anyone needs right now.”
Delaney is gone, but he appears to have trained his players well, on and off the mat.
The team’s expectations of the trip to Florida reflect the positive spirit members said Delaney always carried.
“We know this team can get through anything,” Roche said. “Nothing can stop this team.”