“ Takes place at The Brighton Centre, Brighton, Sussex. „
The first recorded incidence of organised cheering occurred at Princeton University in 1884 but it was not until 1898 that student at Minessota University led a crowd in a particular cheer, therefore the birthday of cheerleading is considered to be November 2nd 1898, a century before my daughter's birth.
I must admit I groaned when my 10 year old daughter told me that she wanted to join a recently formed cheerleading squad. I'd managed to avoid watching High School Musical but was pretty sure this was the motivation behind the cheerleading plan. Nevertheless I took her along to a taster session and soon realised that this was not a bunch a schoolgirls waving pom-poms.
To the naïve observer like myself, cheerleading looks like a form of synchronised gymnastics. However, cheerleading involves choreographed routines which include elements of dance, tumbling and stunts (not a pom-pom insight). My daughter trains twice per week for two hours each session. Training is divided between tumbling, which involves somersaults, back handsprings, and roundoffs; and stunts, which range from basic two-legged stunts (where a girl is raised in the air but while both legs are held by 'base' cheerleaders on the ground) to one-legged extended stunts (which involve being thrown 10-30ft in the air, performing a mid-air manouvre and then being caught by other team members). Many of the stunts involve 'flying', where the girls are thrown in to the air by the other girls or lads (yes, there are teenage lads in the group and cheerleading has enabled them to build fantastic upper body strength and develop great tumbling skills). Check out Wikepedia for a more comprehensive list of cheerleading stunts.
In the US, and increasingly so in the UK, cheerleading is used to direct spectators of events to cheer on sports teams at matches, but the team my daughter is training with is not affiliated to any particular sport or team and has been created to compete at cheerleading competitions and to produce displays at public events. It is early days for the team and also for my daughter. This is her fourth month of training and she has recently performed with the team at a charity event to raise money for ill children. The group consists of various teams for different age sectors, from the teeny pee-wees who can start at 4 years old, to the x-treme tumbling group which includes a 22 year old. The 'X-treme tumbling group' who are aged 14 and over, are currently training for a competition in New York in 2010.
Although initially sceptical about her taking up cheerleading (I'm no 'American Mom' so the idea of committing us to twice weekly training sessions 30 minutes drive from home and giving up weekends to perform/compete did not appeal). However, I have noticed a definite improvement in her self-confidence and self-esteem. She has learned to do a 'round off' (a kind of cartwheel where you land both feet on the ground at the same time) and is almost ready to somersault unassisted. Not bad achievements for a child with no gymnastic training. She has also widened her circle of friends to include other children from different areas of our town and who attend different schools. Plus she has committed herself to a team, understands that she has a responsibility to that team (the routine won't work without her there to catch the 'flyer') and given her an activity that she can see herself making real improvements in. Oh, and she can touch her toes with ease now!!
Cheerleading is not a 'safe' sport so requires a trained and qualified coach (We have a lovely American lady with years of experience in coaching in the US). Injuries are common place, with a broken foot, fractured coccyx and a broken wrist so far in our team. Before allowing your child to take part in this sport I recommend that you check that the coach and any assistant coaches have first aid experience. It's also worth finding out if they have any qualification in coaching leaders. The British Cheerleading Association, http://www.cheerleading.org.uk/ provides training and coaching qualifications and also provides a list of some, but not all, cheerleading squads in the UK.
Cheerleading at its finest. US & UK judges present for the competition.