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How my month as a cheerleader convinced me cheer is a sport

Westminster College Spirit team performing their routine on the beach stage. Sean Distance spent a month on the team and said it deserves to be called a sport because of the rigor of training and competition. (Photo courtesy Westminster Spirit Team)

I have played basketball, football, soccer, baseball and even did a bit of karate, however, cheer is the only sport where I’ve been kicked in the face.

From my month as a cheerleader on the Westminster College’s Spirit Team, I have learned cheer is a highly-technical, fast-paced skill intensive and body-breaking sport.

I can say for most of my life, I was one of those people that didn’t believe cheerleading was a sport. Sure, movies like “Bring it on” and “Man of the House” showed the competitive appeal, but I was never convinced that it was a real sport – until now.

What started as a free trip to Daytona Beach in exchange for some muscle and flips, turned into a memorable experience. I gained a bit of flexibility, a slightly crooked nose, new friends, a remarkable and stern coach and a new outlook on a sport that I thought resided only on the sidelines.

There were a few distinct moments that made me realize how intense cheerleading is, why it should be recognized as a sport and that the Westminster Spirit Team deserves more recognition.

Warm-Ups

The first moment I realized cheerleading was getting real was when we started doing warm-ups and I discovered just how out-of-condition I was for cheerleading.

Not only was I terribly inflexible, my core was pitiful compared to all the other cheerleaders. They were abdominal machines and I was, well, let’s just say, too many Mikes and not enough sit-ups. I was impressed at how strong and flexible they were, especially Alex Olive, a sophomore vocal performance major, who was the only other man on the team.

By my first warmup, I had already discovered that cheer took more than throwing a pompom in the air and yelling out enthusiastic chants. Cheer was a strength consuming task.

Technical Skill

The second moment that opened my eyes to cheer being a sport is when Mariah Cardon, one of the most skilled cheerleaders I worked with, displayed the technical coordination and awareness required through an impressive tumble set.

Westminster College Spirit Team posing for a photo after receiving 9th place in the National Cheer Association (NCA) College Nationals. Former team member Sean Distance said he thinks cheer doesn’t get the recognition it deserves as a serious sport. (Photo courtesy Westminster Spirit Team)

Just like in football, if you stop paying attention for even a moment during a cheer routine, you could get injured. Whether you are performing a dance bit, stunting or tumbling, attention is vital and even then you can still take a foot to the nose on live TV.

The dance and transitions in the routine were the most difficult aspects for me, primarily because not only does it have to look graceful, it must be sharp and strong.

“You have to be sharp because if not, quite frankly it will look like shit,” said Ashlyn Talcott, one of the members on the team.

Before, I would have thought this was not something that I needed training on. I had to constantly practice getting my arms in the right position. I found myself doing cheerleader jumping jacks on the train ride home.

Resilience

The main thing that persuaded me the Spirit Team deserves more recognition is when I saw the resiliency of the team and the ability for them to adapt.

The Westminster Spirit team had so many setbacks while preparing for the National Cheer Association (NCA) College Nationals that someone could make a movie out of it.

In the few months right before nationals, not only did the team lose a few members due to injuries and other factors, the team had to change the routine multiple times before the competition. Our final performance consisted of multiple changes that were done within the week prior.

That all doesn’t even account for the fact that the team was the smallest team there by far. With just a little above ten members, the team competed against other teams with about double the numbers and double the manpower to complete stunts.

For what the team had, I think they deserve so much more.

Conclusion

The month that I spent as a cheerleader was one of the experiences that will stick out to me after I’ve long left the college. Resiliency and the sheer skill and ability the team members displayed in my short time cheering was invaluable.

I challenge anyone to give cheer a try for a month and then tell me it’s not a sport.

Kicked in the face in front of thousands of people and sent home burned and bruised. Was it worth it?

It absolutely was.

REQUEST CORRECTION

*A previous version of this story misspelled Ashlyn Talcott’s name.

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Sean Distance
Sean is a 22-year-old senior communication major at Westminster College. If he’s not spending his time taking photos and making videos, Sean’s likely getting caught up daydreaming about comic books and superheroes. Sean also enjoys writing, music and dancing enthusiastically in public.

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