Competitive Craze: Cheerleaders compare competitive cheer to high school cheer

Meghan Kennedy, Staff Writer

Minute one. Adrenaline pumping. An arena fit for headlining concerts is filled with countless fans — all eyes on the stage. Excitement, nervousness and anticipation fill their minds. The music starts to play as the dance begins.
Minute two. Sweat drips down their faces as they throw their teammates in the air and catch them with ease. Tumblers take the floor and gracefully stick six back handsprings in a row — with every hair in perfect place. A group of fliers soars through the air and lands in the arms of her base. Smiles gleam across their faces as they know everything they have worked for is coming together.
Junior Meghan Fitzgerald cheered for Kansas City Cheer in Senior Open 5 level up until this year.
Senior cheer is ages 15 and up and levels 1-5 are based on skill level, 5 being most advanced. ‘Open’ teams are also referred to as ‘restricted’ and have more rules than regular teams.
Cheerleaders in these divisions are limited to the specific skills they are allowed to perform in their routine.
Fitzgerald said competitive cheer prepared her for high school cheer.
“It helped me with my tumbling, and it taught me how to stunt,” she said. “I have that competitive drive, so going into high school cheer was easier. Being on a competitive club, you want your team to improve as a whole. The whole competitiveness of it helps a lot when you’re trying to improve. In high school cheer, we are cheering for a team; whereas, in competitive cheer, it’s an independent program, and you don’t really cheer for anyone.”
Senior Maddie Beal cheers for All-American Cheer and Stunt (AACS).
She said what she learns in competitive cheer carries over into her leadership role in high school cheer.
“Club cheer is a lot more intense, strict and stressful,” she said. “It helps for high school cheer to have me know what I am doing. Club cheer helps you form a team together and forces everyone to get along.”
Fitzgerald said high school and competitive cheer run in the same seasons.
“KC Cheer practices year-round, and tryouts are in May,” she said. “The summer is just when you build all your skills and come together as a team. You don’t start competing until October, and you compete all the way until April. The only time it causes issues is when the competitive team has practice during a high school game or when the two interfere with each other. It’s just hard to please both programs.”
Blue Valley cheer coach Michelle Wirt also coaches Diamond Cheer. This is her second year with Diamond Cheer, but previously coached KC Cheer for 15 years.
Wirt said she likes coaching competitive cheer because the cheerleaders already obtain a knowledge of stunt and tumbling, so she doesn’t have to teach them much.
“Competitive cheer is more physical and fast-paced,” she said. “High school cheer is more school spirit, peppy and enthusiastic-based.”
Beal said tumbling in competitive cheer is different from high school cheer.
“I like tumbling — it’s my favorite part,” she said. “It’s a lot harder to do it at the high school because it’s on a hardwood floor. I don’t do as much as in competitive because it’s a bouncy floor, so it’s easier.”
Wirt said school cheer is a higher priority for coaches.
“Cheerleaders represent school spirit and are role models in the school,” she said. “Competitive coaches don’t like this because they focus on group dances. If one person is gone it makes a big difference.”
Even though she has broken her nose, sprained her ankle and chipped her teeth, Fitzgerald said concussions are one of the biggest concerns for competitive cheerleaders.
“You can get concussions when you’re stunting or tumbling,” she said. “It’s a lot of the same injuries as you see in other sports, like sprained joints or ankles. In a lot of instances, you see people hurt their backs and get broken bones. It’s a lot of everything.”
Fitzgerald said cheerleaders should try out for a competitive team if they are looking for a more rigorous way to improve themselves.
Beal said she tries to act as a role model for the younger cheerleaders.
“I just tell them if they love the sport to just stay in it and keep trying their best,” she said. “Never quit or just stop trying just because you’re tired. Our coaches expect us to be leaders and calm down all the people who are nervous and get them all pumped up and excited. We have to push them to do their best. Even if you’re scared to learn a skill, you have to take one for the team and try it.”
Fitzgerald said cheer competitions are a whole-day event.
“We have to get there pretty early to watch the rest of the teams,” she said. “You normally start practicing an hour before you perform. After you perform, you have to wait until about 8 or 9 [p.m.] for awards.”
Fitzgerald said competitions can either make or break you as a team.
“It is an extremely nerve-wracking experience because your team is about to put everything you’ve practiced to the test,” she said. “It’s about being able to look good as a team and keep a reputable name. It’s a very adrenaline-packed experience, knowing everything could fail or be amazing within the next three minutes.”