UCLA's most spirited staff member keeps students in good cheer
Mollie Vehling, director of the UCLA Spirit Squad
Buffy Quinn has a fun story about how her daughter, Mollie Vehling — director of the 36-member UCLA Spirit Squad — was first exposed to dance. The night before Vehling was born, Buffy and her husband, Jon, were attending a production of “A Chorus Line.” As Vehling tells it: “She always told me that I was watching ‘A Chorus Line’ through her belly button and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
It’s clear that Vehling was born to dance. As a junior high school student at St. Jude the Apostle in Westlake Village, she was a cheerleader and member of the drill team. At Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, she captained the cheerleading squad. By the time she came to UCLA in 1995, she already knew she wanted to be a dance major.
Vehling’s two years on the UCLA Dance Team helped prepare her for her future job as director of the Spirit Squad, composed of the Cheer Squad and Yell Crew — both coed groups — and the all-female Dance Team. When she took the part-time job after graduating in 1999, the scope of the position was fairly small; she was responsible for providing the students with uniforms, gear, practice space and vans to transport themselves to home football games in the Rose Bowl and to the Coliseum, Sports Arena and USC for away football, basketball and volleyball games.
Thirteen years later — with the UCLA job now full time under the auspices of the Alumni Association — Vehling has expanded the program in a number of ways. She began by arranging for private buses instead of vans, hiring a coaching staff and a trainer, and creating a support group through the UCLA Foundation. Almost yearly since 2004, the Spirit Squad has traveled to China — specifically Beijing, Shanghai and Xian — to represent UCLA and the United States as cheerleading ambassadors and to perform at tourist events, cultural festivals and parades.
2011-2012 UCLA Yell Crew
Vehling also created “Walk Like a Bruin,” in which high school juniors and seniors interested in auditioning for the UCLA Spirit Squad can spend a day with a member of the Cheer Squad, Dance Team or Yell Crew by going to class, the student union for a meal and team practices.
The littlest Bruins can join the Junior Spirit Squad, Vehling’s newest addition to the program. Children ages 5-15 will get a chance to perform as cheerleaders on the Rose Bowl field during a break at the Oct. 8 and Nov. 19 football games. “They’ll be right by the team tunnel, so look for little girls in blue shirts,” Vehling said. “We’ve gotten huge interest, and it’ll be really fun.”
Vehling’s oldest daughters, Lillie, 7, and Emilie, 4, are excited to participate in the Junior Spirit Squad. Vehling and her husband, Derek, have two other children: son Brodie, 3, and daughter Maggie Mae, 14 months. According to Vehling, all four are being raised as Bruins, and if they should attend UCLA, they would follow in the footsteps of their great-grandfather, Lawrence; their grandfather, Jon; their grandmother, Buffy; and their aunt, Megan Quinn Glynn, who played on UCLA’s women’s soccer team from 1997-'98.
Vehling’s younger brothers Darren and Kevin broke away from the pack and graduated from the University of Arizona and the University of Colorado, respectively. “They had wonderful experiences and really made the most out of it, but they broke our hearts just a little bit,” she said, laughing.
2011-2012 UCLA Dance Team
While Vehling loves her job, she knows better than anyone how much work is involved for Spirit Squad members. The students perform not only at UCLA football and basketball games and other sporting events, but also at elementary school rallies, run/walk fundraisers, alumni luncheons, corporate dinners, anniversaries, birthdays, even weddings. Most appearances are paid, and the income goes back to the program to cover operational expenses such as travel, coaching staff and uniforms.
All volunteers, the squad members are constantly being asked to serve as Bruin ambassadors, Vehling pointed out, and the time and work commitment required can be overwhelming. She has observed over the years that it’s getting harder to find students who are willing to give up their precious spare time to anything other than academics or work, which she finds perfectly understandable.
“The caliber of student is now extremely, if not exclusively, academically focused. And that’s fabulous for UCLA’s academics,” Vehling said. “But for me and for the [UCLA Bruin Marching Band], who are trying to find students who are willing to volunteer a considerable amount of time to represent UCLA, to practice, to work out, to make appearances, to be at games, and who come to us with the talent that UCLA expects — my numbers are drastically, dramatically reduced.”
The quality of students who try out for the squad is still extremely high, so Vehling isn’t too concerned with quantity yet. “But one day, it’s going to catch up with us. And we are very good at taking the students and embracing their current level of skill, because a lot of the cheerleaders — the male cheerleader candidates especially — don’t have a lot of previous cheer experience,” she said. As long as they’re willing to make the commitment, Vehling added, she and her staff will work with the students to help bring their skills up to university Division I level.
2011-2012 UCLA Cheer Squad
“I love being able to tell the students that I’ve been doing this for almost as long as they’ve been alive,” Vehling said, laughing. “And the students think I’m super-old because I have four kids.”
Vehling wants her squad members to know she would never ask them to do anything she wouldn’t do herself, so she joins them in their intense workouts with their trainer. “I hope they see that it’s a reflection of the fact that I’m here with them; I’m not just on my own little island,” she said. “We’re doing all the travel together, we’re doing the workouts together, and I think it’s important for them to see that.
“This is not high school anymore, and this isn’t even close to any other university,” she said. “This is UCLA, and we have high expectations.”
For more information about the UCLA Spirit Squad, click here