No End In Sight For Western Cheerleading Dynasty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

David-Lee Tracey is the Sting of Western University – he’s the only member of the Mustangs known simply by one name: Trace. No one calls him David. Some call him, Coach Trace. But most call him Trace, and everyone within the Canadian cheerleading ranks call him a genius.

David Lee-Tracey at TD Stadium. Photo Mustangs Cheerleaders.

This is Trace’s 40th year as a member of the Mustangs cheerleading squad. A Western alumnus BA ’81 and Physical Education graduate, the 60-year-old Ancaster native has led the Mustangs since 1980 and has coached them to 33 National Co-Ed Cheerleading Championships since the event’s inception in 1985.

The 37-member Mustangs cheer squad will fight for a 34th title on Nov. 30 in Brampton. Since 1985, they’ve lost just once, to Queen’s University in 2007. A Team Canada cheer coach, and owner of Power Cheer Gym on Quebec Street in London, Trace has created a dynasty at Western. He’s a JP Metras Sports Museum inductee, and almost single-handedly revolutionized the sport in Canada.

Trace estimates he has coached and trained with more than 10,000 cheerleaders since the early-1980s after a simple pass of the baton made him Western cheer captain in 1980.

“The team flew out to the Churchill Bowl in Edmonton in November during my rookie season. (Ed. note: The Alberta Golden Bears beat the Mustangs 14-4 and beat Western again in 1981, 32-31 in Edmonton). On the way back to London, the cheer captain (David Murray) leaned back over the seat and said he wasn’t coming back next year and asked, ‘Do you want to be in charge?’ I said OK. And that was it.”

The University officially recognized Trace as a coach in 1986, but by then the much-loved cheer guru with a gift of the gab was already turning Canadian cheerleading upside down. Visions of megaphones, heavy sweaters and pyramids with only a few tumbles breaking up static routines were being tossed aside forever, thanks to what Trace called the Americanization of cheerleading north of the 49th parallel.

1981-82 Mustangs cheerleaders, David-Lee Tracey fourth from right. Photo: Mustangs Cheerleaders.

“The sport has evolved, absolutely. When I look back at the yearbook photos from the 1950s through the 1970s, the cheerleaders were doing tricks, pyramids, standing on each other and doing acrobatics. We turned it into a different thing in the 1980s. I saw what they were doing in the U.S. and I knew we should be doing something more athletic. So off we went, revolutionizing the sport in Canada.”

This school year, 145 student athletes from around the globe attempted to crack the championship squad which gained even more notice while performing during the nationally-televised Juno Awards in London. Western also boasts an all-female cheerleading squad which has won on the international stage. In total, Western cheerleaders have captured a dozen competitions in the U.S., where cheerleading is not just a sport but a way of life for hundreds of thousands of elite athletes.

Trace bleeds Mustangs purple. Few know that he created the Mustangs’ mascot, JW, after winning a campus competition in 1984. He’s the unofficial but dedicated Mustangs cheerleaders’ historian. So it crushes him to see how attendance at Mustangs football games at TD Stadium pale in comparison to the glory days at J.W. Little Memorial Stadium.

“The one thing that has changed is the bloody crowds, and that’s unfortunate – the decreasing importance of packing the stadium with purple. It breaks my heart. What got me into this game was the thrill of the crowd, and all of the shenanigans that go along with it. Now we are lucky if we have a full crowd on one side of the stadium.”

The 7-0 Mustangs football squad hosts the Ottawa Gee-Gees on Homecoming Saturday, Oct. 19 at TD Stadium at 1 p.m.

Western football may be the show, but the Mustangs cheerleaders are by no means playing second banana to the gridiron stars. Trace said from recruitment to graduation, his athletes are a vital part of Mustangs athletics and of the university. And they’re a dynasty.

2019-20 Western Mustangs cheerleaders

“It has been quite a run. But I don’t evaluate our worth based on one trophy we win every year. Of course we want to keep winning and asserting our dominance. But the most important thing to me is making sure the kids graduate. I ask myself, are they doing something athletic and something good for the school, and are they graduating?

“But when we compete, I don’t want them to just get to the finish line,” Trace explained. “I want to make sure they run through the tape hard. And when they’re done, then we can celebrate.”

Trace said there’s no end in sight in terms of his coaching post. “I still love the thrill of the hunt. I love recruiting kids, and training,” he said. “There are some days I drag ass a little bit, but I imagine every coach does after a while. But I’m still the first in the gym and the last one to leave at the end of the day.”

The recruiting process, Trace said, is about turning exceptional athletes into cheerleaders.

“We don’t need cheerleaders. We need athletes. And from there, I can make champions.”

The Mustangs cheerleaders weren’t on the sidelines during Western’s last Vanier Cup victory, a 39-17 win over the powerhouse Laval Rouge et Or at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field, because they were busy winning their own cheerleading championship. Laval got revenge on the Mustangs last year with a 34-20 win at home at Stade Telus in Quebec City, host of this year’s Vanier Cup on November 23.

If the football Mustangs are at Stade Telus, the Western cheer team will be there, too, with their own show.

One week later, they’ll go for their own championship in Brampton. That’s when the fun begins for Trace and his squad.

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For 40 years since 1980 – David-Lee Tracey’s rookie year with the Mustangs – Jeffrey Reed has been covering sports in London and Southwestern Ontario. In 2011, as part of his popular series of columns, Out Of My League, Reed cheered with the Mustangs cheerleaders on national TV during the Yates Cup. Click here to read his first-person account of cheering with the Mustangs.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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