On Oct. 12, cheerleaders at United Spirit Association’s USA Regional Competition, held at California’s Great America, showed audiences that the sport of cheerleading is much more than just shouting cheers and waving pom-poms. The competing girls, ages 5 to 17, demonstrated physical strength and agility in their choreographed show numbers, which came with spirited dance sequences, ambitious pyramids, coordinated tumbling, and high jumps.
“Cheer today is different from cheer 50 years ago,” says Roger Ross, public relations manager for California’s Great America. “It’s not surprising that some cheerleaders would be even [stronger] than the athletes they’re cheering for who are playing a sport on the field. One of the highlights of the competition is seeing how cheer has progressed over the years. It has become a major competitive sport. The kids coming here are true athletes in the purest form. They practice year-round to be the best they can be. They take cheer as seriously as a football or basketball player would take their sport.”
This year, over 900 competitors from all over California participated in the competition. They are from cheer groups and cheer teams from schools and clubs. According to Ross, not all cheer squads are associated with middle schools or high schools anymore. As with many youth sports, there are a lot of club teams for younger athletes.
“The kids get to showcase what they can do and they also compete against the best there are in the area,” Ross says of the benefits that come with participating in cheerleading competitions. “The competition shows that it’s one thing to perform in front of people, and it’s another thing to be in a competition where you’re performing to win. This is another avenue to allow someone to progress in a sport they like. Some colleges are even offering scholarships to cheerleaders.”
“Our judges are current USA staff members or people who have judged for USA before, and they’re all trained judges who come from all over the country,” says Heather Fong, competition director of USA. “If a team scores an average of 75 points or more, they receive an invitation to USA’s National Competition [in Southern California]. Each performer gets a performer ribbon. We award teams from first to sixth place, and each winning team gets a plaque.”
Fong feels that Hollywood movies, such as “Bring It On,” portray a more melodramatic display of rivalry between cheerleading teams than what she has personally observed in cheerleading competitions.
“The girls here are friendly to those from different teams,” she says. “The teams here are mainly looking to receive an invite to our national competition.”