Thursday, August 26, 2010

A competition cheerleading convert

Blessed Trinity defended its Region 6-AA title with a first place win during the Region Cheerleading Competition last November.

As I worked on my schedule of fall sports coverage last week, I had to include a sport that was not on my list in previous years. When The Georgia Bulletin began its sports reporting in the paper during the fall of 2007, I photographed and wrote about more traditional sports like cross country, football, softball and volleyball. If you went down my list, nowhere would you find a date on the schedule for competition cheerleading. I was cheating our readers because of my own prejudice against something I didn’t care to cover. Mind you, I had never witnessed competition cheerleading in my life. I saw it on the “four letter network” (ESPN), but I quickly turned the channel.

Isn’t that the way prejudice works? Until you allow yourself to get to know someone or expose yourself to something different, you are clouded by the bias in your own heart and mind.

Well, last October I received an email from a St. Pius X High School cheerleading parent. She noticed how I was giving attention to the other fall sports, but competition cheerleading was noticeably absent from my coverage. She invited me to the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Northeast Georgia Region Cheerleading Competitions at Loganville High School. I decided to go. After seeing competition cheerleading in person I was convinced cheerleading is a sport worthy of coverage. From my experience I viewed competition cheerleading as a combination of Olympic style floor exercises, gymnastics and intricate tumbling skills.

Last month a U.S. District judge ruled that cheerleading is not an official sport and that Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Conn., could not replace its women’s volleyball team with a competitive cheering squad. In Judge Stefan Underhill’s words competitive cheerleading did not meet the criteria for a collegiate sport because “the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized….”

Not everyone agrees. Blessed Trinity High School competition cheerleading coaches Chris and Lauren Bordnick feel competitive cheerleading is a sport. “Competition cheerleading exists solely to compete and showcase various levels of physical endurance that comes from years of training in a professional setting with highly skilled coaches,” said the Bordnicks. The coaches pointed out that unlike sideline cheerleading, competition cheerleading requires harsh physical endurance, hours of physical training, weight lifting and gymnastics classes in order to compete at a high level of competition. At Blessed Trinity “only the best of the best, an elite 16,” are eligible to make the team. They must also maintain high academic standards and keep up their skill level in order to hold their spot on the squad. Like other team sports they stated that competition cheerleaders compete with other teams of equal talent for titles at the regional, state and national level. And like other team sports their goal is to train and win. “Our team will practice a minimum of 6 hours per week, which does not include tumbling classes, which may be an additional 3 hours per week, and they take weight training as one of their electives for at least one semester,” said the Bordnicks. That sounds like a sport to me.

St. Pius X cheerleaders perform during the Northeast Georgia Region Cheerleading Competition at Loganville High School Nov. 7, 2009.

St. Pius X High School competition cheerleading coach Kathryn Winland said they practice four to five days a week for a total of about 8-10 hours per week. “Our practices commonly involve a combination of stunting, tumbling and rehearsal of our routine,” said Winland. “We attend a choreography camp each summer and spend the remainder of the season refining the skills incorporated into the routine. In addition to cheer and dance, the routine includes advanced gymnastics/tumbling skills plus stunts that require a great degree of strength, flexibility and control.” While the skill level varies from team to team, many require advanced tumbling/gymnastics, such as a standing back tuck and a round-off back tuck. “At Pius we require a standing back handspring and strongly prefer a round-off back handspring at least,” said Winland. “In addition to tumbling, our routines include partner stunts and pyramids that require a great deal of strength, balance and coordination.” This year the St. Pius X routine also includes "one man" or "single base" stunts, in which one girl lifts another by herself. “Traditionally, this skill has been showcased more in co-ed squads with males lifting, but is becoming more and more common on all-girl squads and is a true testament to their strength and athleticism,” adds Winland.

The next time you question whether competition cheerleading is a sport, consider what these high school athletes go through to compete. Aren’t bass fishing, NASCAR and poker considered sports? Then I’m sorry, but competition cheerleading sounds like a sport to me.

Michael Alexander, Staff Photographer

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