It has been an eventful year for our sport. It’s impossible to summarize all the developments, but it is certainly possible to hit on a few high points. As always, the sport continues to evolve, so we can expect even more growth ahead.
USA Cheer and American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators Merge: USA Cheer was formed less than a decade ago to fill a void: up until then, the sport of cheer did not have a national governing body in the U.S. and as such, had no way to work with the International Cheer Union (ICU), which governed the sport at the global level. AACCA, by comparison, had been in existence since 1987; it was created with the sole purpose of creating a safer sport by educating cheer coaches and administrators and developing rules for school cheerleading.
The two groups worked together over the years and eventually, we began talking about the fact that we could accomplish even more if we combined resources. We knew it would eliminate confusion and make us stronger. Last year, our boards formally merged.
People sometimes ask us what has changed. We are still delineating responsibilities, but many things are very clear. USA Cheer’s staff will continue to be in charge of selecting and fielding national teams and increasing participation at the national level. Our staff will continue to work to increase and enhance cheer safety and to provide education to coaches and administrators. We will still provide a coaching certification; in the past, it was an AACCA credential and now it will be a USA Cheer credential. I think it will be more recognizable, especially to people outside of the sport.
Look for even more information in the months and years to come as our organization continues to create a stronger and more unified sport for athletes, coaches, administrators and parents.
Cheer Safety is Top Priority
As athletes develop their skills and move up through the sport, their routines become increasingly complex. USA Cheer will continue to make online courses to help establish skill levels for athletes, and to establish appropriate material for each level. We will be offering a new safety rules course each year for coaches.
Offering these courses online has allowed us to expand our reach, and to make sure even more people are aware of the new rules and regulations. Without having to incur travel expenses or take time off, key personnel can make themselves aware of all developments in safety and as a result, work to keep their athletes safer.
In 2018, We Finally Saw Cheer at the Olympics
This year, for the first time, cheerleaders from various nations attended the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in a support role. While they did not actually participate in Olympic competition, it was an excellent opportunity to showcase the different cheer groups from around the world and their various styles of cheer. Some performed entire routines for demonstration while others remained in the stands and cheered on the athletes on the floor.
It may have surprised some people how different cheer can be from nation to nation, but what we have to remember is that everyone has a different vision of what cheer is. Even in the U.S., there are varieties of cheer. For example, the L.A. Lakers Cheerleaders (sometimes known as the Laker Girls) might be viewed by some as more of a dance team – but they’re still called cheerleaders. However, with the popularity of cheerleading growing across the globe through the ICU, most cheerleading teams resemble what we think of as traditional cheerleading teams.
The University of Kentucky’s cheer squad – a great example if there ever was one – was chosen to represent the United States at the Olympics. The reason for deciding upon that squad was the fact that we had to select a group that could practice a routine together in plenty of time to perform in PyeongChang. The easiest and best thing for us was to select an existing team. Kentucky obviously was a good choice and they did a fantastic job of representing the country.
The Versatile Sport of Cheer
As a sport, cheer remains popular. It’s fun and with our continued work, it remains safe. We believe another piece of the popularity equation is the fact that it allows individuals to participate at whatever level they feel comfortable. For example, the sports category of competitive spirit squads has landed in the top 10 most popular sports for girls as ranked by of the National Federation of State High School Associations for several years now, and it shows no signs of losing its place. Those cheer squads may or may not compete for titles, but their first goal is leading the crowd at games and urging on the home team.
For athletes who are more focused on performing as part of a competitive squad, there is all-star cheer. These programs are not associated with a school, and their primary purpose is to develop routines that can be used in competition and in performances. Even within the all-star level, we are seeing a demand for more skill levels so that more athletes are able to enter competitions.
Another trend is cheer programs for athletes with special needs – in fact, they’re popping up everywhere. These may be individuals with developmental or physical challenges (or both) but through the work of programs like The Sparkle Effect, as well as others, they are able to participate in cheer. It allows them to do something that is fun. Often, they’re coached in all-star gyms or even in schools by athletes who are at a senior level in the program. Kids need someone to demonstrate the skills to them, but more importantly, they need mentors and friends. We have seen this type of participation create an amazing bond between athletes on both sides.
Competitive Dance is Popular – and Varied
Competitive dance is a different sport from cheer and there are many different types of dance – and many different types of kids who participate in it. USA Cheer has a dance division, and it fields a dance team that participates at ICU competitions and events.
Dance is an incredibly varied sport and competitions include categories such as jazz, pom and hip-hop. Having that many disciplines means athletes can bring their specific strengths to a competition. Nobody should have to learn a whole new style of dance to participate or compete.
STUNT Continues to Grow
STUNT, a competition that combines both cheer and gymnastics skills, continues to grow in participation across the U.S. It differs from a cheer competition in several ways:
1. Unlike a cheer competition, in which several dozen teams perform a short routine for judges, STUNT is a competition between two teams (generally, these represent two schools)
2. Those two teams perform against one another in a four-quarter, head-to-head competition
3. Rather than having a unique routine choreographed to music, STUNT focuses on specific areas: partner stunts, pyramids and tosses, tumbling and jumps
STUNT is very exciting for spectators – far more so than a traditional cheer competition, in which spectators might wait for hours for a squad to perform a routine, and then wait even longer until champions are decided. As a fan, you see your team on the floor at all times and people really like that.
STUNT has not reached the level of participation required to become an NCAA emerging sport for women. However, the sport continues to grow at both the college and the high school levels. In fact, the California Interscholastic Federation has adopted STUNT as one of their options for competitive cheer. Count on seeing more in this area.
The Future of Cheerleaders
Sometimes we’re asked, ‘What does cheerleading prepare you for?’ It’s actually an easy question for us to answer: it prepares you for anything. As part of a cheer squad (and maybe as part of any other team in the sports world), you learn key lessons: making friends, collaborating with others, trusting your partners, showing good sportsmanship and conducting yourself in public. You learn the importance of safety and how to be a good role model. In fact, there are hundreds of important things cheer teaches athletes. We’re proud that we can be a part of a sport that demonstrates all that and more. SDM
A Destination Worth Cheering For:
Looking for the perfect destination to hold your next athletic event, tournament or competition? Then look no further than the Pocono Mountains. The Pocono Mountains (poconomountains.com) is a mecca for indoor and outdoor sports. Over the last few years, over 60 event producers selected the Pocono Mountains as their arena.
Recent additions to the Pocono Mountains in the convention space provide event planners more options for sports tournaments, gymnastics, dance and cheer competitions. Our region is a 90-minute drive from the major metropolitan areas of New York City and Philadelphia, making it easily accessible from I-80, I-84, I-476, I-81 and I-78.
Visit PoconoMountains.com to request a site visit or learn more how the Pocono Mountains can accommodate your sporting events.