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Cheerleading faces an uphill climb at the college level. Recruiting teammates is tough. Ensuring they stick around is harder still. As Daria Locke writes, it has squads struggling to find their identity.

Holding the line

By Daria Locke

When Alicia Magliocco became a law clerk student this fall at Ottawa’s Algonquin College, she knew something was missing from her life – cheerleading. She fell in love with the sport in elementary school when her family moved to the United States.

She loved it all – from the stunts, to the toe-touches to the competitions – and decided to start her own team in January. The team currently has nearly 25 eager participants, a practice time slot and one dedicated coach – Magliocco.

In the process, she’s learned what all college coaches come to know – time and the revolving door are the toughest obstacles to maintaining team momentum. “It is really important to have the school behind you and to acknowledge your presence,” she says.

Famous Cheerleaders

This is especially the case with cheerleading, which often struggles for recognition as a “legitimate” sport. “Having the school behind us will help us get there.”

At the university level, there are many well-established cheerleading teams but the mortality of college teams is high. In Ontario the movement is in the right direction. This year, teams at Canadore, Fanshawe and Magliocco’s at Algonquin have emerged, while Sheridan, Durham and Fleming have had teams for several years.

“The major problem at the college level is that it is usually a student, and usually a girl, starting up the team and also coaching it,” says the new coach for Fanshawe College’s team, David-Lee Tracey, known to his cheerleaders as Coach Trace. “Not only does she encounter problems with recruiting guys, she also faces the problem of the team even making it.”

The Ontario Cheerleading Federation acting president, Chuck Holland says, “If you don’t have a knowledgeable coach who is going to stick around for a while, it is tough to show legitimacy.”

Coach Trace, a long-time cheerleader and coach was working from a position of strength when he made his pitch. He walked into the athletic director’s office and didn’t ask for anything but the green light.“I have a unique situation where I have my own gym but for other schools, having the school back them up only makes sense. Here are a bunch of eager and dedicated students who want to show school spirit and do something productive, so why not support that.”

The major problem at the college level is that it is usually a student, and usually a girl, starting up the team and also coaching it.

David-Lee Tracey, coach

Fanshawe’s team competed at the National Collegiate and Open Cheerleading Competition in Brampton this past November, and won first place in its division.

The only other team in the community college division was Fleming. Coach Lindsay Elmhirst has been with the team for five years. In that time, she has built a successful team and one that has fared well in competition but she says it wasn’t easy. “It’s not a recognized sport, especially in a small town like Peterborough, so it was difficult getting the involvement from students, the college and community,” she recalls. Elmhirst says success lies in getting recognized as a real sport.

“At first it was difficult because nobody understood we were doing a serious sport,” she says. “And (when) we started competing and bringing back awards, everyone realized we were here to stay.” Elmhirst hopes to see new teams emerge and to see her group expand by incorporating students from Trent University. Magliocco’s team is using the rest of the school year to get ready for competitions next year. “We’ve accomplished so much in so little time. This is a big accomplishment for me, the team and even the school, ” she says.

“If more colleges see what schools like Fanshawe are doing, then maybe one day we can have a really great competition.”

Brandon Dejong, a 20-year-old police foundations student at Fanshawe College in London, had never thought about cheerleading when he
came to college.

At first, he was a little skeptical about joining because he didn’t know many guys doing that kind of thing.

“A friend of mine from class had told me about the tryout and told me to come out and see how it was,” he says. “It ended up being a lot of fun and physically demanding, which I wasn’t expecting.”

It’s not just standing on the sidelines and cheering for people. You can actually compete and do things with it like stunting.

Joel Gazley,
former football player

As a former football player, Dejong shook off the typical stereotypes of cheerleading being a girl’s sport or one solely for gay men. “It involves a lot of flexibility and strength. I have learned how to do a back tuck and other gymnastic skills that I thought I would never be able to do. It’s so much fun.”

Upon hearing he is a cheerleader, most girls are respectful. Though some of the guys are not as nice.

“I just tell them to come out to one practice and see how tough it is,” Dejong says. If that doesn’t work he’s not averse to using hormones as an ally.

“I say hey, look at all the girls I practice with on the team. That usually gets them.”

His teammate Joel Gazley has been a cheerleader since high school.

Also a former football player, Gazley was attracted to the sport because of the lack of males. “It’s not something everybody was doing and something different so I figured I should give it a try,” he explains. “It’s not just standing on the sidelines and cheering for people. You can actually compete and do things with it like stunting.”

Gazley has encouraged many friends over time to try out cheerleading and all of them have stuck to it. “Once they wrapped their minds around it, they were okay with it.”

Fanshawe coach David-Lee Tracey says male involvement in cheerleading has always been limited because of a cultural stigma. “It takes a little while to convince [guys],” he explains. “Because they don’t necessarily see it as a masculine choice. When a guy walks into a soccer practice, he knows what the purpose is – kick the ball into the net.”

He says that when a male sees a cheerleading practice, there is an immediate disconnect because the concept is so foreign to him.

“They really don’t understand the concept of a routine either,” he adds.

An experienced cheerleader knows that there are points to be earned and each stunt, jump and motion has value in a competition. But a guy, especially if he’s new to the sport, may not see how it all goes together. “If you can get a guy over that initial hurdle – you’ve got him for life.”