Cheerleading - How 40 Yorkshire teams are helping to break a negative stigma

Cheerleading is a sport that is unappreciated, degraded and misinterpreted. Often the image of cheerleading is demeaned as merely just a sexualised, short- skirt wearing, hair-flicking, pom- pom shaking, high school stereotype.

Reason to cheer: York St John Kats at one of three yearly competitions, the BCA Nationals 2020.

But what people do not see is the rigorous conditioning, training and complex routines that every cheerleader has to learn in order to be a successful member of a team. 

Cheerleading is a team-based sport comprising of challenging stunts, choreographed dances, intense tumbling and jumps often included in one intense routine which runs from one to two minutes long.

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All aspects need to be perfected in order for the components to work together and cheerleaders cannot thrive without a strong, personal bond between athletes.

York St John Kats training stunts.

There is a diverse range of teams from varsity, pom, dance teams, special ability, recreational and university teams to all-star teams.

Cheerleading is so much more than girls on a sideline. It is an incredibly physically demanding sport and cheerleaders have to endure intense conditioning to ensure they are at their best physically to perform.

The stunts that are implemented in routines are incredibly complex and require full body strength, stamina and concentration, or they could end in catastrophic injury.

A stunt group consists of a number of people (bases and backs) lifting an individual (flyer) into the air, often throwing them so the flyer can execute a position in the air to catch them afterwards.

Cheerleaders have to execute their stunts to the best of their ability every time it is attempted while also remembering full routine counts, dance routines, jump placements as well as typically having to perform tumbles, a form of gymnastics alongside this.

Olivia Bolsher, coach at Vikings Cheer in York, said: “I believe there isn’t enough awareness around what cheerleading really is and it is often downplayed due to stereotypes that are portrayed in films.

“Cheerleading accommodates everyone as it has various levels and divisions which means regardless of skill level, there is a place for anyone to start.

“I became a coach with the intention to build the cheer community in the UK, specifically in York where there is a lack of cheerleading clubs.”

The end game for cheerleading varies as it is a sport that caters for all abilities and aspirations.

Some take up cheerleading for recreational and fitness purposes whereas others join to become all-stars, competing at regional, national and global competitions.

The Cheerleading World Championships are held in Orlando, Florida at the ESPN World of Sports, where around 12,500 athletes from over 40 countries compete.

Yorkshire has seen a huge increase in cheerleading teams over the years and the sport is continuing to grow. There are currently 40 teams in the White Rose county, catering for people aged from four to late-30s and it is now recognised as a genderless sport that supports gender equality.

Stephanie Needley, representative for Team Yorkshire, said: “I think cheerleading is often overlooked as a sport and the main reason for this is the stigma that comes with the pom poms and the dance element of it.

“When I first started Cheer in 2010, there weren’t many teams around at all. It has changed a lot in that time as there were only three levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced, as opposed to the seven we have now. There were also only two world teams and now there are around 25.

“There’s been a huge growth in members and teams across Yorkshire as a lot of teams have branched out due to it becoming a lot more competitive. It was recently published that there are 98,000 cheerleaders in the UK, and this is continuing to rise.

“We are finally starting to get the exposure we want, and we have now got recognition from the IOC as an Olympic Sport. I believe cheerleading will continue to grow and hopefully we will get official sport status.”

Chelsea Chesman, health and safety officer at York St John Kats, said: “While cheerleading provides a distraction from the stress of life in general, it especially helps to have someone to be a point of call and know it’s their job to support the athletes.”

Abi Cranswick, cheerleader for Yorkshire Martyrs Cheerleading Club in Bradford, added: “Cheerleading has positively impacted my life in so many ways.

“It keeps me fit, provides my life with structure and relieves my anxiety and stress.

“It is my outlet from everything else going on in my life and it has provided me with a team that have become a second family to me.”

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