Yay! Cheer Can Be a Competitive Sport
Hundreds of girls and boys in the Tulsa area are involved in cheer, both sideline cheering and competitive cheering.
By Jennifer Luitwieler
More girls and young women than ever are participating in tumbling and gymnastics-based cheer. Both high school teams and competitive teams continue to up the ante to put together the most intense and physically demanding routines to be performed on field, court and before judges. According to a report released in 2008 by the National Cheer Safety Foundation almost “95,200 female students take part in high school cheerleading annually, along with about 2,150 males...This number does not account for the thousands of girls in first through eighth grade who participate in cheer.”
With its rise in popularity, researchers have also seen an increase in injuries. Public high schools consider cheer a sport while colleges do not sanction it as an NCAA sport.
“High school cheerleading accounted for 65.1 percent of all catastrophic sports injuries among high school females over the past 25 years,” according to an annual report released Monday by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. However, many girls and their parents say the positive effects of the sport outweigh risk for injury.
For Liz Flake, vice president of cheer for Jenks Trojans Athletic Cheer, whose daughters cheer both on the sideline and in competition, says the injuries she’s seen have been minor, such as the one her daughter incurred when she broke her finger tumbling.
Flake said that parents with students in the Jenks program want to foster a positive environment, and have fun with the girls in first through seventh grade who are on cheer teams. She said that some 370 girls are in the program now from the three different elementary schools.
Girls in this program train once or twice a week and are limited by age and rules about what stunts they can and cannot perform.
“We are under the Indian Nation Football Conference,” Flake said. As conference members, Jenks abides by those rules. But she also said that each school can handle that differently.
The cheer season starts in August and goes through November. Many of the girls, Flake said, play other sports, and many of them take tumbling and cheer classes throughout the year.
Twist & Shout is a Tulsa business with locations in Edmond and Midwest City that provides cheering and tumbling coaching for girls who want to take on-going classes and to compete in cheer. According to Lyndsey Stout, director and coach for the seven Tulsa All-Star teams, anyone from age 4 to 19, boy or girl, is welcome to join a team or class.
“All-Star cheerleading,” she said, “[provides] more skill training at an [accelerated] level than side-line cheerleading.”
While not entirely different from school squads as far as skills required, the focus is on competing, which requires more training and more travel. It also means the teams can perform more advanced stunts, which gradually increase with age. Flake’s daughters both train at Twist & Shout and are both on competitive teams. Her daughter, Lauren, was on the team that won a national competition that was held in Tulsa, called JamFest. In its sixteen years in business at the three locations, Twist & Shout has garnered over 1000 national titles. In April, the Edmond Senior Obsession team won the gold medal at the 2011 World Cheerleading Championship. This, according to Stout, makes them the first and only team from Oklahoma to ever win this award.
Nicole Kelley, whose daughter also trains at Twist & Shout, said that cheer is much more than winning awards. She has seen an increase in her quiet daughter’s confidence, which carries over into other areas of her life such as schoolwork.
“Being able to get up in front of all of those people at competitions really helps kids feel more comfortable about being in front of groups,” Nicole said. “It also gives them a sense of accomplishment after working hard, besides being a good physical activity for girls and boys.” Stout explained that some of the most valuable lessons she sees young people learning in All-Star cheerleading are teamwork, commitment, goal setting and the ability to overcome obstacles. She also pointed out that young people gain self-esteem and confidence from cheer.