By Paige Atwell
If you were to consult the dictionary for the exact definition of a cheerleader, it would define them as “a person who is a member of a group (typically a group of young women), who shout out special songs or chants to encourage the team and entertain the crowd during a game in sports like American football and basketball.” Or, “a person who encourages other people to do or support something.” But if you were to ask us? There’s a lot more to it than that.
Hours of rigorous physical activity, risking injuries and balancing a strict practice schedule are all components that make cheerleading far from easy. In fact, the Olympics just officially began recognizing it as a sport in 2016. Not only is this a huge milestone for cheerleaders and coaches across the world, but it also will allow their national organization to receive more funding, just as other officially recognized sports do.
Having been a cheerleader for over twenty years, having a background in gymnastics and currently serving as the director of cheerleading at Battle Ground Academy, it’s safe to say that Molly Machleit knows a thing or two about the sport. We sat down with her to get the scoop on everything cheer!
YW: Why do you feel this is an important sport for youth to become involved in?
Molly: I think cheerleading is an important sport because it is an outlet for those who enjoy dance or gymnastics but want to bring those talents into more of a "team sport" at a school setting. Just like all team sports, cheerleading requires physical effort, team work and a lot of practice to be any good. These team skills are essential, I believe, for long-term success in life.
YW: What is it like to be on the squad? How much do these athletes practice in school and outside of school?
Molly: There are two main types/categories of cheerleading: Sideline cheerleading ; think football and basketball game cheering, and competition cheerleading. My focus has been on sideline cheerleading because that is my passion. To me, sideline cheerleading is the heart of cheerleading. Most sideline cheer squads practice anywhere between five to seven hours per week, plus cheering at all of the games. Competition cheerleading typically goes above and beyond those practice hours...and probably "out-practices" most other school sports when it comes to the amount of time spent on practicing for competition routines.
YW: What are the most common injuries you see? What are the routes taken to avoid injuries and how has it changed over the years?
Molly: In all my years of coaching, the most common injuries are usually bloody noses from catching girls in stunts. We talk at the beginning of the season about how to catch each other safely and how to speak up when you feel like you may be injured - especially if a cheerleader gets hit in the head.
YW: What does it take to be on the cheerleading squad? What do you look for? What makes a great cheerleader and what makes a great cheer captain?
Molly: Most cheerleaders go through some sort of tryout process. Mytryout process includes a fitness component of a timed half or full mile run, sit-ups and push-ups. We also teach a cheer and short dance that is scored. Our highest scoring category is "spirit" - because no matter how skilled a cheerleader may be...the crowd always wants to see excited faces. Great cheerleaders are those who love their school, and those who are ambassadors of their school. They encourage those around them, they are coachable, hard-working and overall fun people to be around.
YW: Are there any misconceptions about cheerleading you would like to clear up?
Molly: I believe that there is a tendency to think that cheerleading is an "easy" sport to pick up on. However, I've had many female athletes from other sports cheer for me and say that cheering is much harder than they had thought it would be. It takes a lot of guts to get in front of your peers to perform, especially when you have to stay on beat and smile, while your teammates are holding you on one foot in the air!
YW: What have you learned over the years from being a part of this sport?
Molly: I think one of the greatest takeaways for me has been to bring the skills of cheerleading into my every-day life: Stay positive, represent whoever you work for well by what you say and do, be prepared, encourage those around you and stay physically active.
Page High School’s Loren Smart (pictured), displays some of the typical tumbling and moves that many cheerleaders would perform.