We’ve got spirit: Millikin University’s Cheerleading Team Building Connections with the Community

Big Blue Cheerleading will host a cheerleading camp and several stunt/tumbling clinics this winter.


DECATUR, Ill. – School spirit comes naturally for Millikin University Head Cheerleading Coach Sarah Rapp. 

Rapp knows how to motivate her group of 30 cheerleaders as they pump up the crowd and motivate the players during football and men’s and women’s basketball games because she was on the sidelines herself at Frank M. Lindsay Field and the Griswold Center during her years at Millikin as a student. 

Millikin Cheerleading

A Class of 2017 graduate, Rapp cheered for the Big Blue for four seasons and served as an Assistant Cheerleading Coach for a year at Illinois State University before the head coaching position opened at her alma mater. 

“Overall, it was a great experience to be a part of a college program at a phenomenal school like Millikin. The best part about it was that I got to meet many different people I wouldn’t have gotten to meet if I hadn’t done cheerleading. It is like a family,” Rapp said. “When I joined, I was the only freshman on the team, and it was nice to have the upperclassmen take me under their wing and mentor me. When the job opened, I wanted to return to my stomping grounds, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Sarah Rapp

Rapp inherited a program with just five students on the cheering roster and has since built it up to 30 athletes for the 2023-24 year. 

“We were actually helped by the COVID year. A lot of people joined, and it was something to get them out of their dorm,” Rapp said. “People gave it a try, and we built a really strong team. That group is my senior class now, and there are 10 of them. We are building on that tradition now that we have bigger numbers. It is easier to start recruiting and do more community events and get our name out there and partner with local high schools.”

To continue to build those community connections, the team is hosting a Cheerleading Camp on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Decatur Indoor Sports Center (DISC) on Millikin’s campus. 

The annual camp is for kids aged 4-12 who are interested in cheerleading. The program is led by the Big Blue cheerleaders, who teach a cheer and a dance, as well as stunting and tumbling. 

Sarah Rapp leads
Millikin Head Cheerleading Coach Sarah Rapp leads the team. 

“It is a good way for us to give back to the Decatur community and partner with the DISC. Last year, we had 90 kids attend, and it is so fun to see the little kids come out. The team looks forward to it, and the kids in the community do as well,” Rapp said. “We have ones that have never cheered before and some older ones that might be on their school team or a competition team. We can cater to their skill sets with the older kids doing more tumbling.”

The cost per child is $47, and participants will receive a hair bow and t-shirt. The class will also perform during halftime of a Millikin Men’s Basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, vs. Carroll University at the Griswold Center on Millikin’s campus. Tip-off is at 4:15 p.m.

Parents can call the DISC to reserve their spot at 217-429-3472. A discounted rate is available if families are members of the DISC. 

Millikin Cheerleading

Millikin Cheerleading will also lead several Stunt/Tumbling Clinics for junior high and high school students this winter. 

Stunt/Tumbling Clinics dates and times: 

  • Sunday, Jan. 21: 10 a.m.-noon
  • Saturday, Feb. 3: 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 2: 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 17: 1 p.m.-3 p.m.

The clinics will take place at Millikin’s Health Sciences Center, located at 1099 W Wood St. The cost is $30 per athlete, and they can register using this form. Registration will open approximately one month before each clinic. 

“The clinics are a great recruiting opportunity for local high school students who are interested in coming to Millikin and are interested in cheering. They can get a taste of what our team looks like and our skill level,” Rapp said. “They do a lot of the stunts and pyramids that we do, so they get that early taste of what college cheerleading is like, in hopes that they will be future Millikin cheerleaders one day.”

The team, which is made up of 22 women and eight men, includes a variety of majors. 

“We have a good mix of people. Some are fine arts, music, nursing majors, business, and education majors. We are all across the board. It is cool to see the variety of the team,” Rapp said. “I keep them busy. We have a game-day team and a competition team. We practice between four to five days a week for three hours and perform at football and men’s and women’s basketball games.” 

Rapp has found that once male athletes try cheerleading, they often stick around. 

“Many men on our team have come to us from other sports or do other sports. We have people who are also on the wrestling team, or they used to do football or basketball,” she said. “We do a Valentine’s routine where we ask the cheerleaders to bring a partner, and that is how we get a lot of our guys. They come to that and realize it is really fun, and they just never leave.”

Millikin Cheerleading

Last season, the team made its second appearance at the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) College Cheer Nationals and hopes to return in April.  

“Cheerleaders can make a big impact, whether people see it or not. Sometimes, if a game is really close, those players can get that extra encouragement on the side that might make them play a little bit better,” Rapp said. “Our cheerleaders can be entertainment for the crowd, and we are also leaders of the sideline.”