BY CAROLYN JOHNSON
My elementary school cheerleading memories include banana curls, aerosol hairspray, chocolate on the bus to hype us up, and Vaseline on our teeth to keep us smiling throughout the competition. Mothers hand-sewed our polyester uniforms, pink and blue.
So I was amazed when I attended three competitions this month at how much this sport has evolved in the last few decades. Thanks to the passing of Title IX in the 1970s, which provides equal monies to women and men’s sports in college, cheerleading has become increasingly, albeit controversially recognized as a competitive sport.
Competitive cheerleading today includes lots of physical activity. Increasingly typical at cheerleading competitions are the blue springboard floors, and teams make at least a few visits to specialized facilities to practice their more risky stunts and gymnastics. Like gymnasts, cheerleaders perform standing back flips and full layout twists.
Cheerleaders also perform lifts and tosses. “Fliers” are thrown in the air, held by “bases” in different positions that require strength and cooperation with other teammates. For competition, the whole routine has to be completed in less than three minutes and 15 seconds and the cheerleaders are required to stay within a certain area.
The recent emergence of the rigorous form of stunt oriented cheerleading known as “STUNT” has likely influenced cheerleading. “STUNT” includes partner stunts, jumps, group tumbling, tosses and pyramids, and a team routine.
Like gymnasts, cheerleaders are awarded points for difficulty, technique, creativity and sharpness. The more difficult a mount or a stunt, the sharper and more in-sync the motions, the better the score. Cheerleading is a team sport where cooperation and synchronization are essential.
The St. Paul’s Cavaliers, based in Ramsey, New Jersey, participated in three competitions in March 2012: Wayne Valley Cheerleading Invitational, Sacred Heart, and Queen of Peace, and took home trophies each time. Both Pee Wee (grades 3-4) and Junior (grades 5-8) teams placed first in their divisions at the Wayne Valley competition. Pee Wees were awarded “Best Showmanship” and “Best Motions” at the other two competitions. The girls enjoyed showing off their routines, in part moving to music, and in part cheering out loud themselves. Judges named L. Sydney Otis, Sejal Grizzetti, Amanda Potenza and Rebecca Hazell “outstanding cheerleaders.”
Participating in sports brings lasting benefits to women and girls. Girls thrive when they participate in sports and are less likely to suffer from obesity and many other adolescent risk factors. Participation in sports also teaches young women important professional lessons that have lifelong influence. Two Cavaliers moms noted that their daughters have gained tremendous confidence from participating in cheerleading. Interestingly, some girls play on both the basketball and cheerleading teams, and don’t see the need to choose.
Cavaliers’ parents Cathy Parker and Tricia Cucciniello “love” Coach Brenda Ariz. “We’ve enjoyed cheerleading at St. Paul’s for years, cheering mainly at games. But, since Brenda took over, she took the teams to new heights, entering and winning lots of competitions. She doesn’t even have a child on the team any more (Ariz’s daughter Sam graduated from St. Paul’s last year, but now helps the team, along with 12th grader Stephanie Kaselis. Her younger daughter opted to play basketball this year.)
Coach Ariz shares, “I coached recreational cheerleading back in the 90’s. I coached for 10 years, and then I had to focus on my family. I had babies at home, so I was kind of busy! I was so excited last year when the previous coach at St. Paul’s asked me if I could take over the cheerleading program, as my daughter was graduating 8th grade. This is my second year coaching at St. Paul Interparochial School, and I am enjoying every minute of it. Last year we had a total of 19 girls in the program, all on the team.
This year, enrollment practically doubled in size and I had to create two teams instead of one! These girls make me smile and laugh every day. They make me SO proud, and they should feel just as proud of themselves! Even though I do not have any children of my own on the cheerleading team, I hope to continue coaching at St. Paul’s for years to come.” The teams look forward to next season.