Many people think of cheerleading as something from the realms of High School Musical – a novelty on the other side of the world. There is so much more to the sport of cheerleading, however, and I sat down with three members of the University’s cheer team to understand what the sport was about, and how they have all benefited from it.
Jodie Kelt, the captain of the Competition team, walked me through how the sport worked. “We have to work on a routine lasting around two and a half minutes. We spend all year practicing the routine before competing at competitions against other universities”. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put competitions on hold for now, but the team usually try to enter around three competitions a year.
“Every single member of the group is important, and with one person missing the routine can’t go ahead”
Gabby Kosky, the outgoing president of the team, has the job of overseeing all the members. “I’m there to lend a helping hand”, she told me, “but when it comes to routines I am just as much like any other member of the team”. Team unity seems to be a key part of cheerleading, as Gabby explains: “Because of the nature of our routines, every single member of the group is important, and with one person missing the routine can’t go ahead”. Everyone’s place in the cheer routine is vital and irreplaceable, and all the team need to know their positions to a tee in order to impress in the competitions.
Although the competition squad represent Nottingham on a national stage, there are plenty of opportunities to be part of the team on a less intense level, including their Varsity and Performance teams, who unfortunately missed out when varsity was cancelled this year. They have still been practicing and preparing, and can’t wait to get started again next year.
During competition season, the squad train four times a week to make sure their routine is perfect. Just like any other sport, the team are divided into positions – flyers, the people at the top of a stunt who are often thrown in the air, as well as the bases to support the stunt from the bottom, with taller people usually going at the back. The team are assessed at competition level by judges, on categories such as stunting, tumbling and dance.
“One of the most important objectives of the team is ‘hitting zero’, no matter how we place”, Gabby says. Hitting zero essentially means a perfect routine, with no deductions to the score. This, she tells me, is often more important to a team than where they place in a competition – knowing that they performed their routine to perfection and achieved the best result they could.
Due to the intense nature of training, as well as the stunts themselves requiring a lot of close contact, the cheer members are a very tight-knit group, with socials comprising of all members from every different team. Izzy Martin, outgoing charity & welfare secretary, couldn’t emphasise strongly enough how much cheerleading has positively impacted her university experience. “Before Covid, we were holding loads of socials, including meet-ups at bars, a large Christmas dinner and, of course, Crisis!”
When I asked her of the impact COVID-19 had had on the cheer group, she was honest: “It was not easy. We tried organising as many socials as we could, and staying in contact with my cheer friends helped me loads throughout lockdown”. Jodie added that “we tried doing cheer classes online, but most of the stunts – particularly for the competition team – were just impossible to practice solo and without a sprung floor”. Their family nature has inspired them to give back to their community and this year, driven by charity secretary Izzy, wrapped almost 1000 Christmas boxes for children in need in Nottingham.
A background in cheerleading or any prior experience is not even necessary to participate. Whilst a few of the members previously have experience in gymnastics or dance, they are keen to emphasise that you do not need this, and beginners are welcome. Izzy told me that cheerleading “does take over your life – which is only natural when you are spending four nights a week together”, but it is absolutely worth it and definitely considers the team as a second family.
“People don’t realise we want boys to join and would love for them to be part of it – we would love them to help break the stereotype of just girls being cheerleaders”
As for boys participating? “We would love more boys to join us!”, Izzy told me. “Last year, we had just one boy on the varsity team, and this year we have a boy on the performance team, but we are keen to encourage more people of all genders to join us”. She mentioned that the cheer team had a good relationship with the men’s rugby team, who often help the girls with difficult stunts. “People don’t realise we want boys to join and would love for them to be part of it – we would love them to help break the stereotype of just girls being cheerleaders”. She also recommended the Netflix documentary Cheer, which featured a mix-gender cheerleading team competing in the USA.
There are many stereotypes that people have of cheerleaders, but Jodie is quick to point out the main one – “It’s so much more than just pom-poms!”. Gabby notes that the commitment to the sport, particularly in the competition team, is a large one – however, all the girls agree that it is very much worth it, and feel so comfortable and relaxed when they are with their cheerleading friends. Izzy can’t wait to re-join the team in 12 months after her year abroad in Spain – “I’ll make sure they FaceTime me at every training session!”, she jokes.
Whilst not a sport many are familiar with, it is clear that the impact of cheerleading on these girls’ lives, as well as all the other members of the cheer team, is hugely positive – giving them a platform to express themselves and become part of a big family whilst keeping fit and maintaining a competitive edge. Cheerleading has certainly taken over their lives, but in a good way, and they want to prove that they are more than pom-poms – and ready to roar back into competitions in style next year.
To get involved or to stay up to date with the UoN Cheerleading team, follow them on Instagram at @uoncheerleading.
Featured image used courtesy of Isobel Martin. No changes were made to this image.
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