WHEN I tell people that R.AGE organises a secondary school cheerleading competition every year, they usually give the same, highly-predictable response - “so are the cheerleaders all bimbos?” followed by a juvenile laugh. Yeah, look who’s talking.
Never mind that Cheer has been around for 14 years, and that by now we even have a Team Malaysia that competes internationally at a very high level. To some people (a lot of them, actually), their first instinct will always be to have a laugh.
It seems that people are always sceptical and cynical when the younger generation tries something different, for whatever reason.
Tell them you’re going for an indie gig, and they’ll tell you you’re just a hipster (and yes, that’s an insult). Say you’re into artisanal coffee, and they’ll tell you you’re being a pretentious snob who has become too good for good old Kopi O. Say you’re into cheerleading, and they’ll say you just like to dance around in a short skirt.
While I can’t quite dispel the myth of indie music and artisanal coffee being a fan of 70s soul music and Aik Cheong 2-in-1 coffee, what I can say about local secondary school cheerleaders after attending Cheer for the past five years is that they’re not the shallow, dramatic sort you see on television.
In fact, they’re quite the opposite. They’re some of the toughest, most dedicated young athletes you’ll ever meet; and they’re a glowing example of why we need to have more faith in our youth.
Many of them have overcome a lot of challenges to be able to compete in the sport or, in some case, just to form a team. A lot of schools are sceptical about it. Parents don’t quite know what to make of it, until they actually attend the finals and see what it’s all about.
A lot of the teams handle pretty much everything on their own because they don’t get much support. Some of them have great teachers and coaches to guide them; but for the rest, they plan their own training sessions, sort out their own uniforms, choreograph their routines and do so much more, all because they love the sport.
And there’s no doubt that cheerleading is a tough sport that instills a lot in them. It requires incredible individual strength, stamina and agility as well as collective spirit and teamwork.
The teams, in both All-Girl and Co-Ed division, train almost all year round to perfect their routines. They condition themselves physically and mentally so they can deliver on the big day, all with a big smile on their faces.
And yet, the sport is often reduced to the same silly stereotypes and prejudices.
Many of the teams we’ve interviewed have spoken about the misconceptions people have towards the sport – especially for the guys in the Co-Ed teams. It was even worse back when there were All-Boy teams. It seemed all of them had to deal with the same stupid jokes.
Of course, most of the time it’s just banter. They say these things just to have a laugh and they don’t really mean much. Still, it can’t be easy for the kids to have to deal with it all the time.
Thankfully, some of the more successful teams over the last few years seem to be gathering quite a bit of support in their schools. They are a source of pride, and you can see how much their performances unite the students. Now let’s just hope the smaller teams will get the same support and faith from those around them to reach that level.