Cheerleading, thanks to FHSAA, is now a sport

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Sophia Baldor, Features Editor

Jesuit Cheerleaders know that to make the team they have to meet rigorous requirements.

Kelly Mitchell, AP Lit, Set 5

For the past few years, cheerleading has been overlooked as a sport, but recently the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has recognized it as such. High schoolcheerleading, as well as all-star cheerleading,  has evolved from an extracurricular activity to a sport that requires discipline, a complex skill set, and a carefully planned training schedule.

Like all sports,  cheerleading begins with making the team. High-school tryouts have become more and more difficult with competition from talented and well-trained middle-school applicants, and in some cases, may be more competitive than most other sports.

A panel of judges, including the varsity coach, junior varsity coach, and other qualified experts vote to place athletes on either junior varsity or varsity or no team, using criteria that include tumbling skills, stunting skills, sharp motions, jumps, and pep.   All-star cheerleading gyms, outside of school, decide on participants make a team according to the athlete’s skill. The teams are categorized into five levels based on skill, with five being the most advanced.

High school cheerleading, such as the Jesuit squad,  includes more than just tumbling and saying cheers at games to pump up the crowd. The focus for selection are the girls who have the stamina and dedication to cheer the players to victory. Sometimes high school games can run longer than usual, making it difficult for cheerleaders to cheer for three hours, especially when the football team is not playing their best,  so  cheerleaders must stay positive and inspire the energy-level of the crowd  up the whole game.

During games, cheerleaders learned routines to perform first, second, and third-quarter breaks, as well as follow plans for tumbling, stunting, and chants. Expectations for high-school cheerleading have changed from just girls who want the “cheerleader” title and can do splits to the girls who are dedicated and can stunt and tumble.

Like every other sport, cheerleading uses challenging terminology. “Full-up, heel stretch, double down” may not sound familiar to most sports fans, but all-star cheerleaders know exactly what that term means. The terminology for cheerleading can be difficult, especially on more advanced levels such as all-star teams that compete around the world.

All-star teams practice three days a week. At these practices stunting and tumbling take up the majority of the time. One weekend, a choreographer will come in and create a routine that each cheerleader will work on all year to perfect.

At national competitions such as Cheersport in Atlanta and NCA in Dallas, up to forty teams can compete against each other in one division. The cheerleaders prepare for these competitions for months by practicing  2.5-minute routines choreographed for them at the beginning of the season. Warm-ups are approximately 15 minutes before the team is ready to compete. The cheerleaders say their prayers, shake out their jitters, and take deep breaths knowing the next two and a half minutes will be very difficult and tiring.

When the cheerleaders walk out on the floor or the field, the fans go wild, the lights come on and all the attention is on them. When the pressure is at its peak, all  cheerleaders can do is hope that participants want to do as well as the person next to her .  By the end of the game,  cheerleaders have completed a routine full of  tumbling, stunting, jumps, pyramids, baskets, and dances!

An all-star cheerleader’s biggest aspiration is to compete at the Cheerleading Worlds, which takes place in Orlando, Florida, every year. The Cheerleading World’s is the most prestigious competition for all-star cheerleaders and only the best make it there. Compared to other sports,  Cheerleading Worlds is comparable to the Olympics.

Only level-5 qualifiers, the highest level, competes at Worlds.  Teams who have received bids at smaller competitions throughout the year are more likely to receive a bid to Worlds.   Teams from all over the world travel to Orlando every year in May for this event, at which the champion team receives world champion rings, jackets, a trophy and the sheer pride in having made it to the top.

Although high school and all-star cheerleading can be very different,  they both are considered a sport. Cheerleaders create special bonds with their team and must put in 100% effort to lead their team to victory, whether it’s the football team or their own team fighting for the World Champion rings!