Nebraska’s Erynn Butzke has served as the head coach for Husker Spirit Squad since 2011, helping bring sidelines to life. Through the work, she oversees the daily operations, practices and performances of the cheer squad, Scarlets dance team and the university’s mascots.
Nebraska Today sat down with Butzke to learn more about her work and how she’s giving back to a program that was crucial to her development.
What originally drew you to this role?
I was a member of the Scarlets Dance Team from 2000–2003. I have fond memories of my time on squad and continued to appreciate the team after graduation. I was living and working in Omaha at the time the head coaching job came up. The opportunity to work at my alma mater and serve a program that had played such a crucial role in my personal growth and development was like a dream come true.
Describe what your game day routine looks like.
The team arrives at the stadium 4 hours to kickoff. My assistant coach, Nikki Kimura, and I usually arrive an hour before them. We would have shopped at HyVee the day before to provide the team with snacks for the proper pre-game fueling before our warm-up. After warm-up, we split into groups for our pre-game appearances. We visit the Chancellor’s and President’s tailgates, Unity Walk, Embassy Suites Rock the Dock, Akers Champions Club, Husker Athletic Partners tailgate in the Haymarket and any other special events that come up like Big Ten Network Tailgate or Fox Sports Big Noon Kickoff. After appearances, we gather for our last walk-through and dance usually changes into their performance uniforms. We do an all-squad circle at 55:00 on the game clock, get hype and head out to the field at 50:00. Once out there, the squad members usually visit with their friends and family at the red fence, I grab my headset and review the script. At 22:00 on the clock, we line up for the band show and then kick off!
After the game is over, we will circle again before dismissing from the field. Everyone shares in the locker room clean-up duties. We store the items that carry over from game to game and head home usually about 45 minutes after the game ends unless we have a football/volleyball doubleheader. If we have volleyball, that group will head over to Devaney after break 2 of the 4th Quarter. Game days are long days but they are always fun.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I get asked this question a lot. I don’t have one favorite part but if I had to narrow it down to 3 key things they would be these:
First, being able to give back to the program that literally changed my life. As a young dancer in St. Joseph, Missouri, UNL wasn’t on my radar until I saw the Scarlets competing at nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida, on CBS. There was a Black girl on that squad and for the first time I thought, “If she can do it, I can too.” She became a friend and mentor and ultimately inspired me to choose Nebraska for college. I actually didn’t make the team as a freshman or sophomore but that rejection taught me how to identify my priorities, set goals and genuinely give my best effort. I made the team as a junior and never looked back. I learned so much about myself through the pursuit of that goal and then having to show up once my goal was achieved. Those experiences provided valuable life lessons that I continue to use today.
Second, I have been present for some incredible, unforgettable moments in Husker sports history. I was there when a much younger Jack Hoffman ran for a touchdown at the 2013 spring game. I was on the sideline when in the final second of the game, Ron Kellogg threw a Hail Mary pass that got tipped into Jordan Westerkamp’s arms to beat Northwestern. I was among the 19,000+ spectators in Columbus, Ohio, where Husker volleyball battled their way through five sets against a very tough Wisconsin team and came just short of their sixth national title. I was there with the Scarlets when they took the competition floor at college nationals after a 15-year hiatus just this past January. I was just in Ireland and saw Husker fans show up by the thousands for the school they love. To be able to say “I was there” is a gift I will never take for granted.
And third, witnessing and being a part of one of the most unique times of a person’s life. These young people grow so much between freshman and senior year. I get to share in their joys, sorrows, moments of adversity and triumph. The relationships we build, fill my bucket. I’ve been to weddings, met former squad members’ children and have the joy of doing it over and over again with each new class.
Do you have any pre-game rituals you and the team do?
Not more than I described above — but I love starting my day with a good cup of coffee! Cold brew with oat milk creamer has been a recent favorite.
Do you have any favorite memories from your time in this role?
There are so many great memories, it’s impossible to choose a favorite. I will say, I’ve loved the people I’ve worked with. There have been so many fun, goofy behind-the-scenes moments that could never be duplicated in any other work setting. College sports attracts some of the most creative, selfless and hard-working people and I will forever be thankful for those relationships.