At the next Penn State football or basketball game, you won't find Tim Kunkel sitting in the crowd, enjoying the game. Look for the Jim Thorpe native in front of the bleachers, where he's cheering on Penn State players and getting the crowd psyched about the game.
As a Penn State University cheerleader, Kunkel spent many fall nights greeting football fans and leading the crowd through stadium cheers.
"It's a lot of fun. You get to be around people, go to football games, and cheer everybody on," he said. "We're talking to alumnae and giving them everything that they can get out of the pep rally. We're like Penn State ambassadors. We go out into the crowds and talk to people."
He credits his involvement to a friend in high school who also cheered.
"He edged me on during try outs, and told me to try out," said Kunkel. He cheered for two years at Jim Thorpe High School before trying out for the Penn State squad.
The job of a Penn State cheerleader is to get the crowd excited. The men carry megaphones instead of pompoms, and use the megaphones to shout out to the crowd.
"We're just trying to get the crowd to interact and to get everybody excited about the game," he explained. "We have it a little bit easier, because the girls have to memorize the dances and cheers."
Cheering for Penn State means that Kunkel travels across the country with the university's football and basketball teams. He spent time in Indianapolis this month, following the basketball team to the Big Ten Tournament.
"I like to be around people, and I like to talk to people," he said. "It's just fun."
During the fall and winter football season, the team practices four times a week. He juggles cheerleading practice with academics and other extracurricular activities. Kunkel is also a member of the power-lifting club at Penn State.
"During practice, we go over our stunts and sequences that we plan to do," he said. While the men and women tend to have different routines, they do practice some stunts together including the pyramid sequence, in which two men stand with two women on their shoulders. A third man then throws the third cheerleader to the top of the pyramid.
The main objective of practice is to learn from each others' strengths and weaknesses, Kunkel added. The men tend to work on their gymnastic routines and learn new things. The women practice their dances and weekly cheering routines.
"Some of the stunts that we do aren't easy, especially the gymnastics," he added. "We're there to back up the female cheerleaders. We're taking this performance to another level."
While Kunkel doesn't have a traditional background in gymnastics, he did teach himself basic stunts using a trampoline and diving board. He further honed his skills by taking classes at Tumble with Denise in Lehighton for a year.
Tryouts for the team were competitive, with nearly 40 men trying out for 20 spots on the team.
"It was pretty good competition," he said. "There were some guys that were pretty good, and other guys that were on the same level as us."
Each member of this year's team has grown through the year, learning from the other members.
"You can't get discouraged. You've just got to take it a little bit at a time, and do everything that you can do," he added.
Kunkel plans to try out for the team again next year. This year's members aren't guaranteed a spot next year, and must try out each year. But for many members, including Kunkel, the competition of tryouts and physical demand of the season are worth it.
"I love that feeling, during a big football game, when we get to run out in front of the whole stadium, in front of the football team," he said. "The rush that you get is just amazing."
Kunkel is currently a freshman at Penn State majoring in kinesiology, or the study of movement, with a concentration in fitness studies. He also hopes to combine his love of athletics with a passion for history, by researching the history of sports and the first records of competition and sporting events.
Kunkel is the son of Jamie and Gene Kunkel, and the grandson of Jim Kressler and Rose and Gene Kunkel Sr.