As summer winds down, the fall sports season is just getting started. Everyone loves an entertaining game of small town football, field hockey, soccer, and other competitive endeavors, and the Lehigh Valley is no exception. However, one thing in particular that deserves more recognition is the athleticism and dedication of high school cheerleaders. While, yes, once upon a time, cheerleaders often graced the sidelines simply for their pretty smiles and perky dance moves, cheerleading has evolved into quite the athletic competition.
Pompoms and megaphones aside, cheerleading has developed into competitive routines based on stunting/pyramids, jumps, tumbling, and dancing outside of the sidelines. In fact, PIAA has officially declared cheerleading a sport for the 2012-2013 school year, with a statewide competition being held in Hershey at the beginning of February. By doing so, PIAA has given high school cheerleading programs across the state a fair and honest chance at a genuine state title. (Before, squads had the option to compete at privately run regional competitions—mainly under the Universal Cheerleaders Association or the National Cheerleaders Association.)
Cheerleaders will now have the privilege of participating in a true school sport with rankings, rivalries, and a defined competition season. Cheer programs across the state will begin to become more uniform as distinctions are made from sideline cheerleading to competitive cheerleading. Not only is PIAA’s recognition important for the fairness of competition, but it also answers the age-old question if cheerleading is in fact a sport: competitive cheerleading, yes, sideline cheerleading, no.
Furthermore, another positive of the official sanctioning of cheerleading is safety. Recently, ESPN ranked cheerleading the second most dangerous contact sport in high school, just under football. Both stunting and tumbling contribute to a high risk of head and neck injuries in competitive cheerleading. Before, safety was overseen by AACCA (American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators). While coaches and athletic directors should have carried out any safety standards, nothing more than a slap on the wrist or a deduction from a competition judge would have occurred. PIAA will now have authority over the skills athletes should be allowed to compete in tandem with the AACCA.
Another important aspect of cheerleading that all sports enthusiasts should be aware of is the hard work and training that goes into becoming a cheerleader. Cheerleaders often train year ‘round to achieve skills and perfect the ones they already have. Cheerleaders will dedicate much time to training at their schools’ weight rooms, their own gyms, plus gymnastic and cheerleading training facilities to keep in tip top shape. Cardiovascular endurance as well as a strong core is essential for becoming a talented cheerleader. All-star programs (purely competitive cheerleading squads) are increasing in popularity as well as all cheerleaders train consistently to give the best performances during peak competition season from January to March.
Lastly, the Lehigh Valley in particular should keep their eyes peeled for their local cheerleaders—they’re good. The Lehigh Valley is already booming with talented high school programs that opt to compete, some even participating in UCA Nationals in Orlando, Florida come mid-February. The Colonial League holds their annual league competition in mid-November as the Lehigh Valley Conference dukes it out in December. Districts are typically held in the last week of January.
With that being said, cheerleading is yet another outlet for those with a passion to compete. Cheerleading, like any sport, is based on training hard, perfecting skills, and performing at one’s best, all while building character, teamwork, and work ethic along the way. High school cheerleading will always proudly carry the tradition of supporting other sports teams throughout the year, but it’s also time for everyone to know that the spirited students cheering on the sidelines come Fall, are also hardworking athletes with their own sport and season.
Emi Gutgold is a senior at Northwestern Lehigh High School where she is a four year member of the Varsity Cheerleading team as well as Class President. She is a 2x UCA All-American as well as a 1x NCA All-American. Emi trains at Rocket Elite All-Stars in Easton, Pennsylvania.