By Raequel Roberts, UM News Service
MISSOULA – It takes a certain kind of (crazy?) love to let your spouse fling you 10 feet in the air, trusting he’ll catch you on the way down to Earth.
But that’s precisely the kind of love University of Montana spouses Annika and Wyatt Smith exude on the sideline of Grizzly sporting events as members of UM’s cheer squad. On any given gameday, the couple and their cohorts can be seen performing aerial acts of bravery as athletic as any on the field of play.
And, while the “hurled” faces more physical danger than the hurler, Annika will tell you that trust in this endeavor is a two-way street. So, too, is the team’s commitment to safety above all else.
“Cheer is a contact sport, and both partners are responsible for ensuring that stunts are controlled and safe,” she said.
“You definitely have to have a solid base,” Wyatt added. “Annika has incredible balance.”
UM’s cheer squad is a robust and growing program, with 24 students whose job is to entertain fans and stir enthusiasm to levels loud enough to distract opponents – think football’s false starts. It’s a huge commitment, with the group performing at football, basketball and volleyball games, not to mention hours of practice during the week. This year, they also traveled to the FCS football championship in Frisco, Texas
“That was definitely a highlight of our cheer careers,” Wyatt said.
It wasn’t performing stunts that brought Annika and Wyatt together, however, but a double date during their freshman year -- each with a different person.
Wyatt’s roommate had invited Annika, Wyatt explained.
“We all went to the same community church group,” he said. “Annika and I kept attending and we just hit it off.”
When they met, performing on a cheer team wasn’t really Wyatt’s thing. He grew up playing a variety of sports and enrolled at UM to play on the lacrosse club team. Annika, on the other hand, was a cheer squad veteran, performing on a dance team for eight years and on her high school varsity cheer squad. She even performed on a national team for Missoula’s Galaxy Elite Athletics.
“For the first two years after we met, I would go to his lacrosse games to support him and he would come to basketball games and football games to support me there,” said Annika, who’s served as the squad’s captain for the past two years. “And then, after a little bit of convincing, he joined cheer.”
The couple started their first practice sessions in summer 2023, joining the team at local parks. Thanks to his athletic background, Wyatt quickly picked up the intricacies of performing stunts, which has a learning curve that gets progressively more advanced with time.
“Fortunately, strength was never the issue. It was narrowing down the technique,” Wyatt said.
Being a couple, he added, gives them the advantage of bringing to practice a sort of shorthand that comes from living together, not to mention the need to patch up an occasional argument before heading to practice.
“It’s been interesting to incorporate a serious relationship into a partnership sport like this,” Wyatt said. “Even when we have a disagreement, not that it happens very often, we know if we’re frustrated it will be hard to hit our stunts.”
He said he’s only “dropped dropped” Annika once. And it wasn’t too bad, they both agreed.
“I know that if she gets dropped, it’s not like we can go home our separate ways,” he added.
On October 15, 2021, Wyatt proposed to Annika – in true Griz fashion – on the Oval with candles, and family, friends and the cheer team in attendance.
The Smiths have been married 18 months now. Both are graduating seniors – she majored in medical laboratory science and hails from Stevensville; he is studying finance and international business and comes from Kalispell.
Wyatt recently accepted a job as an investment banking analyst in Seattle, and they are both looking forward to the new adventure.
Whether they continue to perform stunts is still up in the air, pun intended, but the Smiths do plan to visit Missoula often. Afterall, it’s where they met, where they fell in love and where they honed their talent for performing death-defying routines.
“Oh, yeah, we’ll be back,” Wyatt said. “Definitely to go to football games.”
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659, email@example.com.