LSU Tiger Girls deliver clear message one year after school refuses to send them to nationals

LSU Tiger Girls perform before a football game between LSU and Auburn.
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LSU’s Tiger Girls went viral last weekend when their powerful performance at the 2022 UDA College Nationals captured top honors in the D1A Hip Hop competition. But while the team made headlines for bringing the national title back to Baton Rouge for the first time in 12 years, perhaps even more notable was the message the squad delivered after being barred by their school from competing in last year’s event.

After being told they could not compete at the 2021 nationals due to the “many constraints of COVID-19,” even though they were tasked with performing at athletic and school events throughout the year, the Tiger Girls stormed the Orlando, Fla., event with a near-perfect score for their final 2022 routine, set to Ciara’s “Like A Boy.”

“Today, we represented ourselves, our school, and every woman before us who has helped pave our path to success,” the team wrote on Instagram along with a video of their winning performance. “We are BURSTING with gratitude [and] love from all of the support we have received this weekend.”

Tiger Girls director of operations, Pauline Zernott, told LSU’s The Reveille that last year’s absence made the squad “more hungry” for this year’s title. But it wasn’t just the inability to compete that had the squad fired up, it was the “why” that put them over the top.

While school officials stated publicly last January that the decision to forgo sending the Tiger Girls to their lone competition of the year was due to COVID-19 concerns, the team presented a different scenario in a petition asking for support.

“The university has told our program for the first time in 22 years that we are not permitted to compete,” said the team in the petition, which garnered more than 25,000 signatures. “These reasons not being related to COVID or budgetary restrictions. It has been communicated we cannot compete because of lack of athletic trainers available for our competition season.”

The reasoning felt particularly confusing given that the Tiger Girls had been cleared since August to participate in practices and games, and were following the same COVID-19 protocol and testing practices as other LSU athletic teams. They performed at home football games, men’s and women’s home basketball games and women’s gymnastics meets. But the squad, which also adheres to the same NCAA guidelines for academic eligibility, drug testing, scholarships and more, was left baffled when other university sports programs were able to participate in their post-season competitions, and the Tiger Girls were not.

“Unlike every other athletic team at the university, the Tiger Girls have no season, like standard sports,” explained Tiger Girls alum Sammy McFadden, who helped choreograph the winning routine, in a social media post. “Instead, from August to May, they are dedicating their time to supporting all of LSU athletics while simultaneously participating in rigorous training, conditioning, long choreography days and practices so they can uphold their reputation at their singular competition of the year. …

“Taking away this opportunity to compete and grow in their craft as dedicated athletes minimizes this program to only beautiful girls who stay on the sidelines supporting other athletes while never getting an opportunity to compete themselves.”

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Tiger Girls assistant coach Payton Ibos said their performance at nationals was a statement by the all-girl team, who not only competed against but also beat several co-ed teams.

“‘Like a Boy’ was curated and choreographed specifically for this team and all other female athletes who have been neglected in relation to their male counterparts,” Ibos told The Reveille. “Our choreographers, Carson Rowe and Sammy McFadden, were passionate about creating this routine for the positive message behind the empowerment of the female athletes in the dance industry, as well as for the recognition of dance as a collegiate sport with deserving student athletes.”

The Tiger Girls dance team, which was established in 1999, has won two UDA national titles (1999, 2010) as well as two World University Championships titles (2013 in jazz and hip hop). They’ve placed in the top 10 every year since 2005, winning a bronze medal in the hip hop division in 2020. This year’s squad also placed eighth in the jazz division and sixth in cheer last week in Orlando.

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