I’ve been a gymnast since I was 2 years old and a cheerleader since I was 8. I’ve been captain of my high school team, on a senior co-ed open competitive team, and last year became a collegiate cheerleader, and I loved the fact that I have to change people’s opinions about my sport and really show the athleticism required.
Cheerleading is split into four categories. Professional cheer mostly consists of dancing for professional sports teams, and middle and high school teams tend to focus on cheering on the other sports and school spirit. Competitive (also known as All Star) is a completely different world. There are six levels along with the exhibition. The divisions are also categorized by how many girls are on the team and how many (if) males are on the team. Collegiate cheerleading is the mecca of all competitive cheerleading. Along with supporting your school’s spirit, games, and events, the competitions are the fiercest and most jaw-dropping.
Yet no matter how organized this sport is, people often don’t know anything about it beyond the skirt and the pom-pons. Cheerleading isn’t just spirit fingers; there is much more to it than that.
1. Stereotypes are FALSE
The first thing that comes to mind is usually cheerleaders are stupid, but most teams require at least a 2.5 GPA for you to stay on the squad. Most coaches even encourage studying and homework on breaks from practices. At competitions, you will often see cheerleaders doing homework before they have to warm up.
Another common misconception is that we must be sleazy since we wear short skirts. Yes, most teams practice in spankies and a sports bra, but it’s for our safety with tumbling and stunting. I’ve seen people get their shirts caught on someone or something and as a result have been injured. Now some teams are even trying out skorts and leggings for uniform bottoms.
Something I hear too often is “male cheerleaders are gay.” Yes, some cheerleaders are gay, but why should their sexual preference matter in a sport? Female cheerleaders can be gay, too, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less athletic or good at a routine.
2. It is not about looks
Hollywood loves to paint the portrait of the cheerleader as the bitchy, gorgeous girl you love to hate. After all, everyone roots for the underdog, and what better way to pit you against someone than by turning them into a stereotype of everything you mistrust? Yes, to be a cheerleader you need a level of happiness — but popularity? Not so much. In fact, I was the weird kid in high school! Different cheerleading governing bodies are trying to make glitter, too much makeup, and suggestive uniforms illegal as well. Cheerleading is a performance sport, and squads want to look presentable and put together; that’s just not the only thing we care about. You may have known one cheerleader to be mean — after all, there are mean people in every group and club at school — but to focus on the stereotypes of the mean girl in movies and on TV is to let one bad apple ruin the bunch.
3. Cheerleading is HARD and IS a sport
In collegiate cheerleading, we would have up to 5 hour practices with intense conditioning, jumps, stretching, stunting, tumbling, and choreography. Cheerleaders have to attend multiple practices a week, and they typically cheer at two to three games or events weekly as well. You need stamina for that kind of schedule. You also need to know how to budget your time.
I’ve had different athletes from different sports try and keep up with us for a practice, but a lot of them often can’t. Relying on people to catch you when you’re up to 30 feet in the air performing a stretch or flipping is one incredible feat. Most sports throw 5 pound balls around; we have 120 pound human beings to throw and catch correctly. Basket tosses go on average about 15-20 feet in the air and you can have three levels of people in a pyramid. Single bases (meaning one person, the base, is holding a flyer above his or her head by his or her self) are more common in the collegiate division, but cheering is always a workout with little to no downtime no matter how you participate.
And along with the practices, open gyms, and events, we have bi-monthly competitions all around the United States. It’s a time and life commitment. It really becomes almost your job: a very exhilarating, dangerous, incredible job. It’s a worldwide community where all athletes understand each other’s lives and what we sacrifice to be an All Star.