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Cheerleading program remains stunted

When I first tried out for the CVHS spirit squad, I had to choose between the cheer and dance teams. Although I have danced since I was six, I ultimately selected cheer because of stunting and tumbling. Cheerleading is a sport that offers the opportunity to demonstrate athleticism while enhancing school spirit.

Many cheerleaders share this passion. Some have tumbling experience through gymnastics, while others have cheered competitively at club gyms outside of school. As a varsity cheer captain in my junior and senior years, I cherish the friendships and memories made with my teammates. But while reflecting upon the last few years, numerous CVHS cheerleaders feel a sense of disappointment in the school’s cheerleading program.

As stated in the San Francisco Chronicle’s May 12 article “Stunt taking off in state,” California is one of five states that offer stunt as a varsity sport; its 150 teams are the most of any state. Stunting, where a flyer is thrown up in the air by a base formation, is the differentiating factor that sets cheers apart from dance. It showcases the team’s strength, flexibility, and teamwork. Now, a new sport dedicated solely to this aspect of cheerleading is gaining traction.

“According to the California Interscholastic Federation, which regulates high school sports, [stunt] participation in the state has risen 80 percent since 2018. Traditional competitive cheer, meanwhile, grew 22 percent over that time, the CIF said, while participation across all sports declined 6.8 percent,” mentioned the article.

While cheerleading as a sport is gaining rigor, cheerleading at CVHS has not progressed. In comparison to CVHS’ program years ago and to current local high school cheer teams, CVHS cheer is not given the same support. The team does not stunt, attend away football games, participate in summer camps or clinics, or compete in regional competitions. 

COVID-19 negatively affected all school sports and clubs. Fortunately, over the past two years, these activities have returned mostly to normalcy—but the process of bringing the cheer program back has been slower at CVHS. Adding on multiple changes in leadership within CVHS and a new athletic director, it is understandable why things have been more challenging. 

Since the pandemic began, CVHS cheer has not stunted. At home games, all squads from visiting teams have demonstrated that their teams continued stunting starting in fall of 2021. The CVHS cheer team is limited to dancing, jumps, kicks, and tumbling while the opposing team’s cheerleaders are being thrown into the air. 

It takes time and forethought to restart stunting. “There would have to be a plan that articulates coaches certifications, expenses, clinics and trainings needed, proper equipment such as mats, and other requirements according to CIF,” explained Athletic Director Kathleen Stacy.

Stunting is legally required to take place on either mats, rubberized track, or grass: all of which CVHS has. The coaches’ stunt certification is an $85, five-hour long online course. It’s unclear why the approvals are being held up.

Coaches with cheerleading backgrounds and stunting experience are in the best position to advocate for additional training and opportunities. But since the fall semester of 2019, CVHS spirit squads—both cheer and dance—have been coached by dance teachers. 

“I think the spirit squad is heavily dance-dominated,” stated varsity cheerleader, senior Keira Ebrahimi. “Since we can’t stunt and don’t work much on tumbling, even as a cheer team, we’re focused more on dance aspects. Dancing takes priority for the coaches because they know how to critique and improve the dance routines.”

CVHS cheerleaders are also unable to perform at away football games, while all home games in Trojan Stadium features cheerleaders from the visiting school. Pre-pandemic, a parent carpool system was used to transport cheerleaders to and from away games. 

CVHS cheerleaders do not attend competitions, for these events require stunting. In the past, CVHS cheer participated in both competitions and summer clinics, traveling as far as Anaheim to do so.

A few cheerleaders communicated their dissatisfaction to school administrators, but they were told to adhere to school protocol and report to their coaches first.

“There’s just so many unanswered questions about cheer,” commented one of the cheer captains, senior Ashley Kim. “And the fact that no one’s answering them makes me think that they don’t care enough about us to try to either offer communication, or give us more opportunities to become a real sport.”

Cheerleaders are used to serving and entertaining others—but without competitions they have nothing truly for themselves to showcase their athleticism.

“Just because we cheer on other sports, it doesn’t mean that their sports should take priority over ours,” expressed Kim.

Fortunately, cheerleading is evolving and the attitude towards it is changing. At the college level, dozens of universities now offer stunt as a varsity sport with the promise of athletic scholarships. Last month, the NCAA designated stunt as an “emerging sport” for Division I, putting it on track to becoming a championship competition. Meanwhile, an effort is under way to include competitive cheerleading as an Olympic event by 2028.

Many school administrators are eager to fulfill the demand for equal opportunity for women in educational settings, required under the federal law Title IX. Supporting the cheer program is one way for CVHS to do this. There is an encouraging sign that both varsity and JV cheer will be coached by individuals with cheerleading experience: a first step to improve the CVHS cheer program. According to Stacy, “After hearing about the interest from students, coaches, and families, steps are being taken to see how stunting could be brought back to CVHS.”

How soon these will be implemented remains to be seen.