Cheerleading styles vary greatly between the high school, college and professional levels. Teams that cheer for professional sports team such as basketball and football generally perform dance routines and do not include tumbling and gymnastics. Some of the most well known teams are the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders for football and the Los Angeles Laker Girls for basketball.
College teams not only cheer at some sporting events to help fans show support for the teams, they may also compete as co-ed or all female teams and are judged on their routines performed to music. College level cheer competitions incorporate difficult gymnastic skills as well as stunting; making pyramids and throwing team members into the air and catching them. Two premier college teams are the University of Michigan and the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
Most high schools have teams that cheer at athletic events such as football and basketball. These teams are called sideline teams and lead fans to cheer during the sporting events. High schools may also have competitive teams that host or travel to various competitions. Some competitions even name National Champions based on the teams that choose to attend. Teams are judged on their performances, much like gymnastics and ice-skating. There are compulsory skills that must be performed such as jumps, back handsprings and standing back tucks. Teams also execute difficult tumbling passes and pyramids in group stunts. Ultimately, it is the goal of high school teams to be strong enough to earn the opportunity to compete at a State Finals Competition and to earn the title of being named the best team in their state. Some of the best high school teams in the country are the East Kentwood Falcons in Michigan and Carmel High School Hounds in Texas.
Club teams or All Star teams are also very popular. Athletes are selected by teams and enter competitions that may travel all over the United States to earn various championship titles.
Competitive cheerleading for Club, All Star and school-sponsored teams is a very fast growing sport and children start as young as four years old working on developing sophisticated gymnastics and stunting skills. Most high school cheer athletes work out in weight rooms to develop strength and take gymnastics classes outside of school to master difficult skills.
Cheerleading is a very expensive sport. Costs include shoes designed specifically for cheerleading, uniforms, entry fees to camps and competitions, uniforms and practice clothing.
Safety is of the utmost importance in cheerleading. All stunts are performed only after rigorous conditioning, practicing and training. Stunting groups consist of flyers (the athletes who are lifted or thrown into the air) bases and backspots (athletes who assist in lifting and catching the flyers). Bases and backspots are trained to take whatever steps are necessary to catch flyers and prevent injury. Routines are performed on special cheerleading mats that provide spring making it easier to jump and tumble. The mats also cushion the athletes in the event a stunt is not performed properly and an athlete falls. Some serious injuries have occurred as a result of stunts performed incorrectly. Many state athletic associations restrict the types of stunts that can be performed at youth and high school levels, such as flyers becoming inverted or upside down while in the air. The restrictions are in place to prevent athletes from performing stunts they may not be ready to perform or because younger athletes may not be strong enough to catch the flyers who may not land correctly.
Sportsmanship is a very important part of high school and college athletics as cheerleaders are highly visible ambassadors of their schools. The most respected coaches stress the importance of being supportive of not only the home team, but of visiting teams and other teams at competitions.
Cheerleading in the United States has grown into a full-fledged sport that brings pride to the schools and athletes that participate in it.
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