Since 1959, the Sparkettes — Indiana State’s official dance team — have dazzled crowds with their energetic and difficult routines at every basketball and football home game. There have been major changes throughout the organization’s history, but nothing has changed the ambition that is the core of any Sparkette team.
“They practice three days a week,” said Tammy Schaffer, ISU Athletics Department community relations director and also director of the Sparkettes and cheer team. “They have study table hours that they are responsible for. They have weights and conditioning that they participate in two days a week. … And then they are responsible for community service hours.”
In spite of the rigorous demands of training, Sparkettes excel academically. This fall semester, the team averaged a 3.78 GPA with several of the dancers claiming a 4.0 average.
“As a coach, I tell them that school comes first, team second, social life third,” Schaffer said. Although the young women make it look easy, balancing team and academic obligations can be incredibly difficult. Sometimes late nights or advance studying is required to prepare for exams. Still, the athletes always shine during performances.
“We pride ourselves on working really hard,” said Angela Scheesele, a senior nursing major and captain of the Sparkettes. “Some people think that dance team isn’t hard and isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be, but we work really hard to make things perfect.”
The work ethic of the Sparkettes was rewarded when the team moved from the music department to the athletics department in 2011 and was recognized as an official athletics team. As with any athletics team, the women must engage in community service.
“They do a bunch of different community events,” Schaffer said. “I think that giving back and being a part of your community is a life skill, and so hopefully they will fall in love with community service and take that into their life.”
The time-management skills and confidence acquired from being a Sparkette have benefitted them well into their post-collegiate careers. Six Sparkettes have become professional dancers as cheerleaders for the Colts, the Pacers and the Indiana Fever. Those who don’t pursue dancing have also had prestigious careers, such as Taylor Schaffer, communications director for the city of Indianapolis and daughter of Tammy Schaffer. Having a mother as a coach gave Taylor a unique perspective on Tammy’s coaching style.
“She is my mom, but she has also been a mom to so many young women in that role,” Taylor Schaffer said. “She’s often the one they call first when there’s a problem at school, or a problem with a teacher. … She is passionate and caring in all of those things.”
The Sparkettes form a strong bond not only with their coach, but with each other. Some of the friendships last long after graduation.
“The Sparkettes are valuable,” Taylor Schaffer said. “I wasn’t in a sorority, but I would tell you it was the closest thing I could imagine to being in a sorority.”
Happiness and success for each Sparkette is a priority for Tammy Schaffer, and she feels rewarded whenever she sees their hard work pay off at the games.
“It’s exciting for me to see them out on the floor and participating and loving what they’re doing,” Schaffer said. “That’s my Super Bowl.”