The Cheer team, currently under the guidance of Aleshia Adams-Page, has been on a three-year roll. It began at Disneyland, in the U.S.A. Junior Nationals competition, where the Midget team won its division, only to be eclipsed by the Peewee team that not only won its division, but won the national grand championship as well. Two years ago, the Peewee team came in second at the JAMZ national championship in Las Vegas. This year, the Jr. Midgets won the JAMZ national championship in their division and the Jr. Peewees earned a second place.
This run of national prominence is being threatened as Page steps down as Cheer Director. Her daughter is graduating from the program, so Page’s last event will be the JAMZ national competition in January, where her Midget team will defend its championship. No one has come forward to assume the reins.
The fact that a U.S. District Court judge ruled last year against competitive cheerleading as a college sport does not remove the luster from the accomplishments of the Chargers team. As anyone who follows jurisprudence or who reads legal decisions as a cure for insomnia knows, many legal decisions are based on the narrowest of legal principles.
So let’s ignore the federal courts long enough to understand something about competitive cheerleading. There is a vast difference between competitive cheerleading and the cheerleading that we see when we attend a sporting event.Regular cheerleaders are usually rosy-cheeked young people who stand on the sidelines and exhort the fans in the stands to vocalize their support for their team. Sometimes the cheerleaders wave pom-poms, sometimes they do simple tumbling moves like somersaults, and every once in a while they may do a pyramid. They are not part of the newly discovered Obese America, but neither are they performing at a level of demanding athletics.
A sport is a sport is a sport
Now let’s look at competitive cheerleaders. They do all the same things as regular cheerleaders. Their skill sets include cheering, dancing, tumbling and performing stunts. These are not your ordinary fit young people. These are highly trained athletes who require strength and agility to perform at the level required to win national championships.Just their warmup calisthenics would exhaust half the people in their age group and leave many of the rest begging for a time out. Their warmups are every bit as strenuous and demanding as the warmups of most high school boys basketball teams. Competitive cheerleading is not recommended for the average couch potato.
The question whether it is a sport or not has expanded way beyond the narrow decision of the judge in the federal court case. And how you feel about it could be determined by what you think, not of the question “Why” but of the question “Why not?”
Competitive cheerleading has elements in common with several Olympic sports. Like gymnastics, diving, and figure skating, it is a judged sport. Beauty, grace, and the execution of complicated routines are second nature in cheerleading as well as in those Olympic sports. Competitive cheerleading is judged on difficulty, execution, creativity, and showmanship. It sounds very similar to those Olympic judged sports.
Like basketball and volleyball, it requires a high degree of teamwork to be successful. This teamwork is not simply a matter of synchronizing movements. Flyers in competitive cheerleading are depending on their teammates to catch them.Another similarity with team sports is that there are positions in competitive cheerleading. There are dancers and tumblers. Everyone is expected to have a minimum proficiency as dancers and tumblers. Then there are bases, back spotters, occasional front spotters and flyers; these are the positions that will perform many of the stunts that will lead to high scores.
Flyers are the cheerleaders at the top of pyramids and other elevated formations. They are hoisted into the air, where they will perform stunts and assume postures while balancing on the hands of their bases. Then they’ll be thrown into the air as their aerial routines finish and must trust to the bases to catch them.
Bases form the foundation of the stunt elements. Standing to each side of the flyer, they’ll lift the flyer up, then extend their arms up with palms upward, provided a platform on which the flyers do stunts. At the end of the routine, they’ll flip the flyer higher in the air and catch her.
The back spotter stands behind the flyer. She actually is in charge of the stunt, she counts the stunt up and down, helps the flyer into position, helps support and stabilize the stunt and catches the flyer along with the bases.
Basketball, volleyball, and competitive cheerleading all have positions and feature teamwork, so how can you eliminate one from the pantheon of sport?
The Title iX effect
The question of competitive cheerleading’s standing as a sport does nothing to diminish its contribution to the future of the participants.
When Title IX became law in 1972, requiring equal opportunity for male and female athletes, it brought with it an upheaval in the sports world. Girls sports began to receive some of the same attention and funding as boys sports. We are now decades into the Title IX era and its positive effect on girls can be gauged.
Studies show that girls who participate in sports are 20% more likely to pursue higher education and have a 40% better chance of being considered for and achieving better employment.
When 11-year-old Adriana Alvarado says she aspires to be a doctor, she’s already ahead of her peers in that pursuit because of her participation in competitive cheerleading.
There’s a great deal of bonding and camaraderie in the ranks of a competitive cheerleading team. “We’re like a family,” says 11-year-old Lexi Reed. It’s a refrain heard everywhere as you talk to the cheerleaders. Considering the nature of the stunts, with girls flying in the air and other girls flipping and catching them, it’s a very good thing that they like each other and feel like a family. There has to be a high level of trust involved to participate in this sport.
13-year-old Alba Alvarado tried swimming and other sports, but ended up in competitive cheerleading because “it’s different and challenging.” Hers is the voice of authority: she has been on both Charger national champion teams.
Another two-time national champion is Gwen Page, who likes the competitive aspect of the sport and enjoys the teamwork.
Adriana Alvarado said “I like performing in front of crowds.” That feeling might explain why all of the girls display a poise and maturity beyond their years. In turn, that may partially account for the reason why sports participation leads to greater success as an adult.
A program in transition
Aleshia Page is looking forward to the team’s next competition in early December at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and then to the JAMZ National competition in January. But she’s “sad to be leaving the program. We’re like a family and I’m concerned that the program may go away if there is no one to take over.”
Page learned her trade under former head coach Barbara Godfrey. “She taught me everything I know.” Page learned so well that she was one of the assistant coaches of the Jr. Peewee squad that snatched the grand champion honors away from the Midgets at Disneyland. She announced her intentions to leave the program early, in hopes that someone would volunteer to be the “coach in waiting” for a year, learning the tricks of the trade. No one had yet come forth.
The video to the left shows the cheer teams practicing. Some members of the teams were not present for this practice, so you’ll see some cheerleaders going through the motions of their routine as if their missing teammates were there. Christine Hafner was missing from the midget squad. The peewee team was missing Phoebe Zea and Bianca Wallace. The dance team was missing Wallace and Hafner. A larger version of the video can be seen here.
As director, Page oversees three groups this year: the Peewee and Midget cheer teams and a dance team. She is head coach of the Midgets and an assistant coach on the other two teams.
Competitive cheerleading competitions are conducted by divisions that reflect the age and skill level of the participants. This year the Charger cheer team has entered two competitions. At Six Flags, they were the only team in their division, so they got the experience of performing their routines, but being number one didn’t have much meaning.
In the conference cheer competition, the Peewee team placed second out of nine contestants and the Midgets placed third out of eight. The dance team, in its first year, came in second of two teams.
What the judge ruled
In the cheerleading case, the judge was asked to approve competitive cheerleading as a replacement for the women’s volleyball team at Quinnipiac University. The question arose because of the provisions of Title IX, which specifies equal opportunity for male and female athletes. Title IX has been invaluable in opening doors to female athletes.
The judge did not find that competitive cheerleading was not a sport, he just ruled that it was too disorganized at this point in its development to be elevated to the status of a collegiate sport.
The legal question the judge decided was, essentially, can competitive cheerleading replace volleyball under the terms of Title IX. The judge’s ruling did not rule out competitive cheerleading as a sport in any context other than Title IX.
The Charger cheer team knows that competitive cheerleading is a sport, and so will you if you attend one of their competitions.
Sports Stories is a service of SportsDashboards. SportsDashboards saves Athletic Directors and League Presidents time by bringing all registration, payment and communication online with easy to use web Dashboards for Coaches, Players and Parents. Click on the SportsDashboards icon in the top right corner to learn more.