Taking sport to higher level

Nov 14, 2002, vol. 25, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl



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SFU cheerleaders show off their lifts as they prepare for national competition Nov. 23. The co-ed squad will also host a western regional contest in March.


Throwing touchdowns, dunking baskets and soaring across finish lines are typical feats of sport that have earned accolades for SFU.

But the university's athletic accomplishments are spreading in new directions. Consider cheerleading.

Cheering for the home team has become a sport in itself, according to Ping Yao, head coach of SFU's growing powerhouse of spirit-raisers.
“We are there to take games to a higher level,” says Yao, a former member of Queens University's cheerleading team. “We train hard. We are strong and competitive. It's serious business.”

Today's cheerleaders aren't about frill and shrill. Pom-poms have been replaced by athletic prowess. Cheers and chants are pitched as participatory, not sideline entertainment.

The 40 fit and flexible SFU students who are part of SFU's co-ed cheerleading squad commit more than 10 hours a week to training and performing. It is the largest squad since SFU cheerleading was created six years ago.

Their visibility as high-energy ambassadors, both on campus and in the larger community, is on the rise. So is their competitive edge in national competition.

Two teams accommodate various skill levels. The white team draws newcomers and first-timers, who can then train up to the more advanced red team that focuses on stunts and competes nationally.

The team is currently preparing for this year's competition at the end of November.

“We are not just some pretty faces jumping on the sidelines,” says Emma Turner, white team coach, adding that team members come from all walks of academic life. “We are athletes, and our job is to provide energy and motivate fans as well as the team.”

Team members set personal goals. Overall, red team members adapt those for competition. The team has steadily improved each year.
Under coach Jamie Meades, a former cheerleader at top-ranked University of Western Ontario, stunts are reaching new heights.
What's the attraction to cheerleading? Some, like Turner, became involved by chance.

She decided to try out for the SFU team with a roommate as a joke. Both made it. Then there is Erik Haberger, who tried out for the team after mistakenly showing up at the gym for a volleyball game.

Now he's one of 15 male cheerleaders on the team helping to raise the level of stunt activity through added strength and agility.

“It's fast becoming a sport that's attracting the gymnast in both men and women,” notes Turner.

Which may mean cheerleading has come full circle. The first cheerleaders, says Turner, were male fans attending an Ivy League football game a century ago.

“It appears to have been started by one fellow who would run onto the field and yell something, and the other fans would yell back,” she says.
The goal hasn't changed but the rules of cheerleading have been redrawn. “We are very driven,” says Turner. “

We are among the first to arrive on game day, and just like the athletes on the field, we perform rain or shine.”

SFU will soon have a chance to cheer for its cheerleaders, when the team hosts, for the first time, the Best of the West competition to be held in the SFU gym on March 15.

To learn more check out their website, www.sfucheerleading.ca

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