Cheer & Dance

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Competitive Cheer and Dance

25 Jun, 2021

By: Lauri Harris
Catching up with USA Cheer

After being derailed in 2020,  competitive cheer and dance, as well as the emerging sport of STUNT, are making their triumphant return. Whether squads are in youth, high school, college or representing all-star programs, performing on the sidelines of games or traveling to tournaments, they’re back – and that’s something worth cheering about.USA Cheer’s Lauri Harris spent some time with SDM, reflecting on the past year and giving her insights on the year ahead.
The Challenges of Restarting a Team-Based Sport
It has definitely been hard to get the sport restarted after the pandemic. Everything stopped at once but not everything has started back up the same way. Every state has different guidance, and even within states, the cities and counties often have varying restrictions. That makes it very difficult to host practices, much less competitions, for a competitive sport where partner stunts and group choreography are essential.

Unfortunately, at this point, it’s not a level playing field. When groups do compete, it’s obvious who has been allowed to get back to their in-person practices sooner. It is really going to take some time for everyone to get back up to speed, which many athletes understandably find frustrating. We sympathize with what they’re experiencing; returning to competition has been like trying to go from a standstill to running a marathon.
Virtual Options and Hybrid Events
An additional development has been the fact that because of the limitations on travel, many national competitions were cancelled but some regional and local events were able to move forward. This also resulted in a number of hybrid events, with judges reviewing both live competition and recorded routines. And while the preference is always going to be for everyone to get together at once, this has been a useful development in keeping the sport moving forward.
The reliance on technology, not just for virtual competitions but for tryouts, has been another development we’ve come to see. A range of programs, from high school squads to college, allowed interested individuals to do interviews and submit video clips of their skill sets. It was also useful in that it allowed these programs to familiarize hopefuls with key parts of the routines from choreography to the school fight song. 
While these have been useful, in-person tryouts will always be the preferred method – for everyone. (The exception to this may be colleges that have students who are living several states away and who might not be able to make it to multiple rounds of tryouts).
Connecting High School Athletes to College Programs
Another way USA Cheer continues to try to bridge the gap between high school and college programs is by offering its combines. Like combines for football or any other sport, our combines allow athletes who are juniors and seniors in high school to demonstrate specific skills to college coaches. 
In 2021, our combines went on; we simply moved them from the universities where they had previously been scheduled, to private cheer gyms, and in many cases, adjusted the schedules to allow for smaller groups. (We also offered a virtual option, which brought in even more interest). Our combines will continue this fall back on university campuses. 800 students last year came through our combines (some have even signed letters of intent with colleges) and we look forward to even more as we move forward.
It is worth noting that USA Cheer has an active partnership with CaptainU, a software platform that allows high school students to connect with college cheer and STUNT coaches. It’s a great means to organize their college search and expand their collegiate opportunities. 
International Cheer
USA Cheer fields teams that compete internationally, representing the country. They represent a variety of styles of cheer and dance and compete in the ICU World Championship, FISU and the Pan American Games. Our national teams are as follows:
Senior Teams
• All Girl Team
• Co-ed Team
• Pom
• Hip Hop
• Jazz
Junior Teams
• All Girl Team
• Co-ed Team
• Pom
• Hip Hop
• Jazz
We’re also proud to say we field teams in the Adaptive Abilities and Special Olympics divisions at the International Cheer Union (ICU) World Cheerleading Championships. The Adaptive Abilities Uni-fied teams (formerly called “ParaCheer”) and the Special Olympics Unified teams offer competitive opportunities for athletes with and without developmental challenges, and the Special Olympics Traditional Teams are comprised of athletes with challenges only. 
Special Olympics and Adaptive Abilities Teams
• US National Adaptive Abilities 
Unified
• US National Special Olympics 
Unified Intermediate
• US National Special Olympics 
Traditional Intermediate
• US National Special Olympics 
Unified Team Cheer Hip Hop         
• US National Special Olympics 
Unified Team Cheer Freestyle Pom            
• US National Special Olympics 
Traditional Team Cheer Hip Hop
• US National Special Olympics 
Traditional Team Cheer Freestyle Pom     
We are hopeful that all international championships can resume, so that our athletes have the ability to shine. The USA has a long tradition of excellence on the international stage, having won numerous gold medals. We look forward to continuing that tradition. The 2020 ICU World Championship was cancelled, and the 2021 event has been moved to a virtual only competition this September. We look forward to coming together with the teams from around the globe back in Orlando next April for the 2022 ICU World Championship. We also have plans to travel internationally late fall 2022 to Chile and Greece.
Continuing the Growth of STUNT
STUNT, which is the organization’s all-female team sport, is on the NCAA’s roster of Emerging Sports for Women and is continuing the climb toward obtaining championship sport status.
STUNT, which is one of the fastest-growing female sports in the country, removes the crowd-leading element and focuses on the technical and athletic components of cheer, including partner stunts, pyramids, basket tosses, group jumps and tumbling. These elements are put together in short rou-tines that two teams (each representing a different school) must perform head-to-head on the floor at the same time. The team that executes the skills best wins the round and the point and also has the opportunity to determine which routine level will be called next. With four quarters of play (divided into partner stunts, pyramids & tosses, jumps & tumbling, and team routine), STUNT is an exciting sport to play, coach and watch.
Under the rules of the NCAA, in order for a sport to reach championship status, a minimum of 40 schools need to be offering it as a varsity sport, or 28 at the DIII level. We had 39 school programs this spring season, where we played with a shortened schedule due to COVID-19, and another 12 schools that are committed for the 2021 season. It is safe to say we are off to a very good start.
Of course, like many school-based sports, STUNT was stalled by the pandemic; however, we worked hard to create ways to hold events. We launched club-based STUNT in California this past fall and had a great response to it; in fact, we were able to run a condensed season with a postseason championship. We were not sure whether we’d be able to host a college championship, but we were thrilled to be able to offer championships in divisions for College Club, NAIA, NCAA Division III, and a combined championship for NCAA Divisions I and II.
The Safety of the Sport
USA Cheer is committed to the safety of its athletes. This year, we announced several new partnerships, including TeachAids (to promote concussion awareness and understanding), TrueSport® (a youth sports values-based program powered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) and Player’s Health (a risk management and insurance services firm specializing in youth sports organizations; this organization will manage USA Cheer’s athlete safety program with PH Protect).
USA Cheer regularly updates its Cheer Rules for all ages and programs: youth, middle school, junior high, high school, college and all-star/club, and offers a USA Cheer Safety Course as well as a rules course. We recommend all coaches complete the safety course every four years because we want to empower them to make good decisions that keep athletes safe but allow them to retain their ability to challenge themselves. 
With the pandemic slowly getting behind us, the sport of cheer is moving forward, and USA Cheer will be there to support it all the way. We’re definitely not seeing a downturn; in fact, there’s a big wish among our athletes to get back to doing what they love. SDM
 

About the Author

Lauri Harris

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