The first thought that comes to mind when most people think of Cheerleading is a blonde in a skimpy outfit on the side of a sports field cheering on jocks, with pom-poms. I’ve always been intrigued with cheerleading, the glamour of the hair, make-up and outfit, the spirit they show and their synchronised tricks. I used to watch the film Bring it On and admire the tumbling as well as the lifts, they talked about something called All Star Cheerleading, little did I know what that was back then.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was introduced to ‘Smoed’ – The California All- Star Small Coed squad, who have now won the title of World Champions three years in a row. The title is not won easily, they go through literal blood, sweat and tears to get there; contrary to popular belief, Cheerleaders are athletes.
Their season is incredibly straining. It starts with ‘Try-outs’ before summer where everyone, even ‘returners’ (people on the squad the previous season) have to try out. Here they showcase their talents and perform to the best of their ability for the chance to be on this world-renowned team. The team consists of 20 people, 4 boys and 16 girls, hence the competition to even get on the team is fierce.
Then once the 20 are chosen they spend the summer bonding and perfecting their routines whilst pushing for even harder stunts. So when the cheer season starts in October, they are ready to go and ‘hit’ (cheer slang for getting everything perfect on a routine).
After a few dramas, multiple injuries and 3 three hour practices per week the team take on their first competition where the first three teams get a ‘paid bid’ to the World championships - because it is often held in different places all over the US the sponsor of the competition will sponsor them to go and compete in Worlds. The typical cheerleading competition goes over two days – where from the first day the top 10 teams go through to the second and that score, out of 300, is counted at roughly 10% of their overall score, meaning that the titles are based on the performance on the second day.
The routines they perform are packed full. They have three components – the tumbling, the stunts (usually involving a pyramid) and a dance section. The most difficult is perfecting the stunts as these are where at the most, three people (maybe two and sometimes in partner stunts) must lift the flyer into the air for her to perform some amazing leg lift or to be thrown into a jump. When multiple flyers are put together and connect through holding hands or legs, this is where the pyramid is. It’s normally the focal point of the routine so if there is a ‘bobble’ (where one group stunt wobbles or falls down) it is quite noticeable and affects the whole routine. The dance section is usually very fast paced and synchronised. With the tumbling, they run across the mat in twos or threes and throw crazy tumbling flips and flicks with twists and turns. Whilst doing all of this they manage to perform and keep a massive grin on their face, now that’s a face of a quality athlete.
However, before they compete in the very important Worlds, they have NCAs – Nationals. Last season this was not Smoed’s best, a bobble in the pyramid caused them to come second to their rival team, Brandon All-Stars. This caused them to be hungry for victory this year. With a major flyer pulling out two weeks before, they were thrown with a curveball. Fortunately, a back-up was brought in and amazingly pulled it off, and Smoed came away with the titles of National Champions. This showcases the adaptability that these athletes have to face, as in football, if a major player is injured they bring in a reserve and although it is not always easy to change the team dynamic they normally pull through. Smoed not only pulled through but hit almost every stunt, hit the pyramid and just blew it out of the park. The pressure was upped for Worlds 2014 – in which they managed to secure their third title of World Champions.
I hope therefore that I have shown you that cheerleading is much more than prancing about with pom-poms and chanting cheers. It requires vigorous training to lift people, hard-core practices to hit every stunt and on top of all that the performance skill. Consequently showing that cheerleading is a sport that should be thought of as highly as any other!