Allison Cooper: Don’t underestimate the athleticism of cheerleaders

Allison Cooper

Less-than-shocking news flash here: I was never a cheerleader — I was a bookworm.

And being that I was a bookworm, I assumed any child I might one day have would be woefully inept at anything that involved athletics — or coordination, for that matter.

But kids don’t typically do or say or want anything you expected them to do or say or want.

Such is the case with my daughter, Alexa, who has always been incredibly active. She participated in Little League from kindergarten until she joined the modified, then JV softball teams. She was a Frank Baker cheerleader in fourth grade and continues to cheer now that she is a 10th-grader.

The winter sports season was her first foray into varsity cheerleading.

Unfortunately, I was unable to see all but one of her competitions this season due to a health concern. However, she recently shared with me a video given to each of the team members at the end-of-the-year banquet held at the high school last month. (A shout-out to her dad, Rick, who won an award for being at every game — sometimes there are three per week — and every competition. He was also at the banquet when the award was announced.)

The video was a fun and upbeat compilation of photos and videos of games and competitions. The music popped and the pictures and videos were sweet and funny — and incredibly impressive. There was flying. There was tumbling. There was technically complex choreography.

Being the bookworm I am, I have, in the past, underestimated cheerleading. And I know I’m not alone. I must say, however, that the training (two hours per day, five or six days per week, plus gymnastics class) is strenuous. And that’s not just by a bookworm’s standards: There were three young men on this year’s varsity squad, and one of them is a hockey player.

Thirty-one student athletes worked week after week to prepare for highly competitive contests against other schools across our region. Sisters Maralee Taft and Marlese Thompson have coached cheerleading — from the youth program to the varsity squad — for roughly 15 years. The pair, who sacrificed countless hours with their families, stepped down this year as head coaches. Boosters and the athletic department provided untold support.

“There are a lot of hours of work the public doesn’t see,” said Maralee. The routines used at competitions are different from sideline cheers at football games. “There is athletic tumbling and very advanced stunting,” she added.

The varsity squad also participates in community outreach. It ran a cheer youth program and visited a nursing home to carol during the holidays.

Sports like football, lacrosse and basketball often get much of the glory — and rightfully so.

But for those who think cheerleading is a drama-laden social club (well, OK, there is some drama but what do you want — it’s teenagers), there is more athleticism and grit there than meets the eye.

Allison Cooper is managing editor of Messenger Post Media in Canandaigua, N.Y.