Fit, flexible athletes lead the cheer

Cheers to you: Upper Hutt’s Paige Bartley (centre) stands tall for the Elite Diamonds.
Cheers to you: Upper Hutt’s Paige Bartley (centre) stands tall for the Elite Diamonds.

Is cheerleading a sport?

Our perception of cheerleading tends to be influenced by the pompom holding, scantily- clad dancers we see at rugby and league.

But Google cheerleading and you will find a whole new world.

In America, competitive cheerleading is a huge sport. Universities and colleges compete with the same ferocity as they do in basketball, gridiron and baseball to attract the best athletes and win titles.

The scholarships on offer are huge and unlike New Zealand, the sport attracts males who are usually top gymnasts.

Christina Magan runs the Elite Diamonds who train in Upper and Lower Hutt.

She said convincing New Zealanders that cheerleading is a sport is not easy.

With a background in dancing she has been a Hurricanes cheerleader but these days is proud to call herself a competitive cheerleader.

She is in no doubt that it is a sport and to succeed, she said athletes had to be fit, highly flexible and have plenty of courage.

"If you think gymnastics is a sport; competitive cheerleading is a sport."

In competition they perform a two-and- half-minute routine and like gymnasts are judged on set criteria. The most spectacular part of the sport involves throwing the girls high and catching them. Known as flyers, it is also the most dangerous aspect and she said it takes a lot of skill; not everyone is a natural flyer.

"You would be surprised at how high they can throw a girl. It is mostly technique."

Flyers tend to come from a gymnastic background - tumbling and parallel bars.

In New Zealand the teams are all-girl affairs and do not have males to do the throwing.

That is not the disadvantage it may seem - In America the national title has been won by an all-female team.

She said technique plays a big part. Flying is definitely dangerous and occasionally girls do get dropped. Her team has had no serious injuries, but safety must be a priority.

The flow of adrenaline can mask injury and when someone has been dropped, care has to be taken that they are fit to continue.

Competing in the Wellington Ministry of Cheer last Sunday, the club's senior level two team came second.

Mrs Magan runs dance classes in Upper and Lower Hutt and has about 20 girls in her cheerleading team.

Upper Hutt Leader