During her sophomore year at North Branch Area High School, Courtney Young learned something that would change her life.
“I found out there was a cheer squad for the hockey team at Minnesota – and from that point on, it became my focus,” Young said. “[I found out about it when] I met a girl who was trying out for the team, and I watched her work on the skills she needed for the tryout. After that I searched for videos of the team and [learned] what they did.
“All of that made me really excited to have an option for something to do once I gave up figure skating. From that point on, my training was focused on making that team,” she added.
And that focus has paid off as Young, a junior at the U, is in her third season as a member of the school’s cheer squad for the men’s hockey team.
Young started figure skating at 8 years old – “That is kind of late to get into figure skating, but I had been in gymnastics and dance before, so that gave me a good base in the fundamentals,” she said – and had reached Freestyle 8 Level as judged by the Ice Sports Industry.
“I stopped when I graduated from high school, which is the typical level when girls stop competition,” she explained. “It’s hard to continue testing and competing when you get older, and I was going to college.”
So when her senior year at North Branch rolled around, Young tried out for the Golden Gophers’ cheer squad.
“I had two months of high school left, so the tryout was nerve-wracking,” she admitted. “But it was exciting to come to the U and try out and then make some new friends when I made the team.”
The three-day tryout included a display of figure skating skills, including jumps and spins, as well as off-ice work that showed participants can dance and lead cheers.
“It’s about finding high-level figure skaters as much as it is finding cheerleaders,” Young said. “We tell people, ‘It’s more important that you can figure skate at a high level.’ Most of us were taught how to be a cheerleader.”
Young quickly learned that cheering at a Minnesota men’s hockey game is a lot of work.
“We go out before the puck drops and do a routine to ‘Minnesota March,’ ” she explained. “Then we change out of our skating dresses to put on a different uniform and go out into the stands to cheer and dance to music the band is playing.
“Between periods we go on the ice and perform more. It’s a lot of back-and-forth between going on the ice and into the stands. We go up and down stairs while we’re cheering and do a lot of routines on the ice.”
As you might expect, the team’s practices are as grueling as its game-day schedule.
“We practice three times a week on-ice for roughly 2-3 hours, and twice a week we wake up at 6 a.m. for morning lifts to be in the best shape possible,” Young said.
And the practices begin in July, when the choreography for the skating and dancing is set. When August comes, so do preparations for the start of season in October, and the work continues as long as the hockey season does.
One of the best parts of being a cheerleader, according to Young, is becoming closer to her teammates on the squad.
“We’ve become a sisterhood,” she said. “We all enjoy showing support for the Gophers, and we enjoy meeting fans and teaching kids cheers – their faces light up when they do it. It’s all a lot of fun.”
Young plans to graduate from Minnesota in May 2021 with a degree in mortuary science.
“It’s a shock to most people when they hear about a cheerleader earning her degree in mortuary science,” she said. “One of my relatives is a funeral director, and I thought it was an interesting area to study.”