Rutgers Spirit Program wins ESPN “Cheer on Your Disney Side” competition


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Photo by Dennis Zuraw |

The Rutgers University dance team performs at the Sept. 6 football game against Howard University.


When the Rutgers Spirit Program decided to submit a video for “Cheer on Your Disney Side,” a contest co-sponsored by ESPN and Disney, Emily Heinemann submitted the group’s clip two minutes before the deadline, at 11:58 p.m. To everyone’s surprise, Rutgers ended up winning the grand prize, a $100,000 grant and all-expenses trip to Disney.

“If you told me when we were planning this video that we would even be chosen as finalists, I would’ve said you’re crazy,” said Heinemann, coordinator of the team’s video and cheer team alumna. “When I found out we won, I think screamed for 10 minutes straight.”

The prize for the RSP, which was awarded to the all-girl cheer team, co-ed cheer team, dance team and mascots, was earned after garnering more than 47,000 fan votes on the video submission. 

The RSP beat out three other spirit teams — Auburn, Louisiana State University and Santa Monica College — in the final round of the contest. Rutgers was announced as the winner during the network’s pregame coverage of the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Christine Zoffinger, the team’s head coach, said she was thrilled Rutgers was chosen as one of the four finalists, especially since she never expected the RSP to win the competition among such big-name schools.

The 30-second video is set to the sound of the Disney song “It’s a Small World.” The storyline shows Rutgers spirit team members lacking enthusiasm — appropriately shown downtrodden in black-and-white — until the Rutgers Scarlet Knight and a handful of Disney princesses come bursting onto the scene, throwing the video into vibrant color.

Heinemann said the team shot the video three days prior to the submission deadline and required multiple takes. 

“Although everyone was extremely professional and took direction well, we couldn’t help but laugh a few times throughout the shoot,” she said. “It was hard work, but a lot of fun.”

After submitting the video, members of the spirit team took to social platforms Twitter, Instagram and Facebook every day to spread the word, said Evelyn Falkof, member of the cheer team. 

“Just having our family and friends share it got people who we don’t personally know to vote as well. Social media was our biggest platform for getting people to vote for us,” said Falkof, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. 

To remind people to vote daily, Heinemann also created Disney-inspired graphics to post everyday on spirit teams’ social media pages.

Tara Rappleyea, captain of the Rutgers cheer team, witnessed the announcement of the winner in front of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, which she said was just as exciting as winning the competition.

Rappleyea, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the RSP submission stood out because Disney princesses were incorporated into the video. 

“It’s funny because most of us were Disney princesses for Halloween,” she said. 

Heinemann said overall she is grateful the spirit program is able to contribute to the success that the entire athletic department has been having this year. 

“Christine Zoffinger does such an amazing job coaching and puts her heart into RU spirit,” she said. “To be able to help the program get the recognition [it deserves] cannot be put into words.”


Avalon Zoppo

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