Ramarro Lamar was in Marine boot camp in the middle of a July heat wave in Quantico, Virginia, when he got an Instagram message from Nebraska cheerleader Sydney Long.
She was asking if he was interested in joining NU's cheer squad.
Lamar, a senior political science major, shrugged it off. He’d never done anything close to cheerleading before, and the nearest thing he had any experience in was wrestling, a sport centered around throwing somebody to the ground, not holding them up.
So he turned his attention toward completing boot camp, thinking it was a joke.
“We were in the middle of boot camp and everything, your mind isn’t thinking about anything clearly,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I just sent her a bunch of laughing emojis and gaffed it off.”
It was a week before Lamar was able to use his phone again and see Long’s response. She was serious. The Husker Cheer Squad was allowing stunts and tumbling to be a part of its routines for the first time since the mid-2000s.
With that, the door was open for male cheerleaders to return to the squad for the first time in more than a decade.
Lamar gave Long his contact information to pass along to coach Erynn Butzke and, sure enough, she reached out to him about trying out.
“That’s when I realized, ‘Oh, man, this is legit,’” he said.
So just two weeks after completing boot camp, Lamar tried out for Nebraska’s cheer squad.
Learning the ins and outs of a sport he’d only seen from the stands was a new challenge, but something he was excited to embrace.
“It was like drinking water through a fire hose,” he said.
With practice, and the help of some former NU male cheerleaders, Lamar became one of the squad’s six male members.
Restoring stunts and tumbling for Nebraska’s cheer squad was a long process for Butzke, a Scarlet Dance Team member from 2000-03 who returned to the program in 2011. Her hiring came at about the same time as Nebraska’s switch to the Big Ten Conference, which she said was a major catalyst toward bringing stunts and tumbling back.
That process was muddled by several years of turnover and instability in the athletic department.
Bill Moos' arrival as AD in 2017 brought stability, Butzke said, which allowed the athletic department to think about what areas could be enhanced. She said Moos recognized that the cheer squad played an important role.
“I credit him quite a lot for moving the project forward,” she said.
There are very few cheer squads that don't incorporate stunts and tumbling, and there was a clear upside to adding men to the squad, according to Moos.
"The addition of male squad members has enhanced our gameday experience, and provides another opportunity for young people to be involved with our athletic department and our university," he said in an email.
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Butzke said she cast a wide net when recruiting men to try out for the squad and received a stronger response than she expected. She was only planning on selecting four men, but after whittling the candidates to the final six, she saw something unique that each person could bring.
And she said the new additions embraced the challenge of learning stunts and tumbling.
“Even though they’re new, we had our expectations right way,” Butzke said. “As long as you have good instructors, guys and girls, it’s not hard to put the puzzle pieces together.”
The group is practicing and perfecting the skills to ensure it puts on an entertaining and, more importantly, safe performance.
Restrictions were first placed on the Nebraska cheerleading program in 2002, six years after cheerleader Tracy Jensen suffered neck injuries after landing on her head during a practice session. While Butzke wouldn’t comment on the injury and subsequent restrictions, she said the program has a “perfection-over-progression” mindset.
“Safety is at the forefront,” she said. “The (male cheerleaders) take a lot of pride in making sure nobody comes down.”
Third-year cheer squad member and captain Lindsey Wood has seen the program reach new heights since the inclusion of male cheerleaders. She said the changes have laid the foundation for growth for years to come.
“It has been, honestly, such a blast,” she said. “It has been such a new thing for our program and with that it has challenged us to reach a new level and take things up a notch.”
Wood said every member of the team approached the change with an open mind, eager to take the way they reach Nebraska’s fans to new heights.
“With change comes the opportunity for growth and opportunity for something new and exciting,” she said. “I think everyone on our team has bought into the idea that this is a group effort and it’s been fun to show our fans something new.”
Lamar said he thinks the 90,000 fans who fill Memorial Stadium have welcomed the change.
“I’ll never forget the very first game, when we went out there to warm up during the South Alabama game,” Lamar said. “The very first stunt we threw up and landed perfectly, everyone just went bonkers and lost their minds.”
Even though the changes come at the tail end of Wood’s career at Nebraska, she said the seniors are excited to see what the addition means for the program’s future.
"As a senior, and I can speak for my senior classmates as well, we have so much pride in this program and it means so much to us,” she said. “To know we are leaving it with girls that are such hard workers and are so talented, it makes it a little bit easier to leave, knowing this program is in such good hands.”
For Lamar, the experience has given him a deeper appreciation of cheerleading.
“I have so much more respect than I did before,” he said. “Being able to see firsthand the amount of talent, strength, coordination these athletes have to have is unbelievable.”
Now halfway through the season, Lamar said the squad is looking to implement more-complex stunts. The group has come a long way since August, he said.
“You grow together, that’s, honestly, one of the coolest things about it,” he said. “It’s new for everyone.”