The Calgary cheerleading community says the sport is finally beginning to be viewed for what it is — a legitimate sport.
“We’re athletes, we’re doing tumbling, we’re lifting people in the air, we’re tossing them in the air, we’re doing jumps,” says Florence Myette, a coach for one of Calgary’s largest cheer clubs, the Calgary Stars. “These guys train three times a week, four hours a day. It’s a lot.”
In 2016, the International Olympic Committee voted in favour of including cheerleading among the provisional Olympic sports, meaning cheer athletes will have the possibility to compete at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Myette says that the cheer community has been waiting for this for years, and they are excited about the recognition.
This year, Calgary hosted the annual Pacific All-Star Championships, which took place at the Nutrien Western Event Center on Feb. 2 and 3. Hundreds of teams from Canada and the United States competed for titles and trophies over the two-day event.
The venue was filled with cheerleaders in blinged-out costumes, hair piled high and extravagant makeup. The teams were all hoping to claim a first place spot, which would send the team to the world championship in Orlando, Florida in May.
Mackenzie Gray, 11, was one of the athletes competing in the PAC this year.
Gray has been cheering for the Calgary Stars for four years, and had the opportunity last year to compete at the World Championship in Florida. The Calgary Stars Gymnastics & Cheerleading Centre started 15 years ago with six athletes. Now, the club had 15 teams competing in this years PAC. The club swept the competition, receiving multiple first-place prizes. Five of the Calgary Stars’ teams will be heading to Florida in May.
“I love cheer. I was doing dance and gymnastics but it wasn’t a great fit,” says Gray. “I started cheerleading and it turned out to be good for me.”
After snagging a first place spot at the pacific championships, Gray’s team will be heading back to Florida to compete later this year.
Cheerleading has had a large presence in America for decades. However, Canada has seen a large growth of enrollment and interest in recent years.
Gray’s mother, Kendra Gray, says she didn’t know much about the sport before her colleague introduced her to the idea. She says that she imagines her daughter involved with the sport for many more years.
“The first competition I really didn’t know what it was all about,” says Kendra. “Having coached sports and played sports for a long time I was kind of skeptical, to be honest. Then I walked into the first competition and it was like no athletic event I had ever seen before.”
“The positive energy, the teamwork and the family is like no other. It is hard to explain until you’re in it.”
When many think of cheerleading they might initially think of pom-poms on a football field. Despite this preconception, all-star cheerleading has been around since the early 1980s. These are squads not associated with any schools or sports league, with their main objective being competition.
“My dad will even ask, ‘Oh, did you cheer loud with your pom poms?’, and we have to explain no it’s not that,” said Kendra.
See more photos here