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Column: STUNT takes cheerleading to a new level

For the first time ever, the University of New Mexico’s all-girl cheerleading team will be playing STUNT during the Big 12 Meet, Friday through Sunday in Oklahoma City.

As a freshman on the UNM all-girl team, this is super exciting for me.

I have cheered for a long time and competed in a variety of competitions — both high school and all-star, at the state, national and international levels.

But I have never done anything like STUNT before.

STUNT is unlike traditional cheerleading seen on the sidelines. This new sport takes the athletic and skill components from cheer and turns it into a game.

The thing I love about STUNT is that we are treated like athletes.

As cheerleaders, we are constantly undermined and told that we are not “real athletes,” but STUNT changes that. In STUNT, we are playing a game — an exhausting, four quarter, play-by-play game — just like everyone else.

Coach Amber Haggerty said she decided to enter the team in STUNT this year to give the athletes a chance to travel and compete.

The transition to STUNT, both for my teammates and myself, has not been an easy one.

Our whole team, including the coaches, are new to this. We have had to totally rewire our brains to the way that STUNT works.

“As a coaching staff we are in uncharted waters,” Haggerty said. “But we have learned something new nearly every week and are enjoying the challenge of figuring everything out and putting our best routines on the mat.”

Eryn Forrest, a third-year veteran on the team, said she was surprised at how much STUNT entailed.

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“When I first heard about STUNT, it seemed like it would only be a couple of stunt sequences we would learn, then compete and it would be short and sweet and to the point. However, it has become so much more than that,” she said.

There is a total of 24 routines that teams must learn for a game of STUNT — that breaks down into six levels of routines for each quarter. Quarter one is partner stunts, and quarter two is pyramids and basket tosses. Halftime is followed by quarter three, which is jumps and tumbling, and quarter four, which is team routines.

In a STUNT game, both teams go out on the mat and perform the same routine at the same time. Game officials score the teams based on execution of the skills. Whichever team executes the routine better gets the point and calls the next routine.

One of the great things about STUNT is that it makes cheerleading more fair.

You know where your team stands and why you did or did not earn the points. The rules of the game and the scoreboard make things clear. You know what you have to do to catch up and win.

“Each routine highlights different athletes and their strengths, and as a coach, I love the concept that everyone plays a vital role in each level and contributes to the team goal of winning each round,” Haggerty said.

STUNT is also a game of strategy.

While teams learn 24 routines, only 15 will be performed during a game (four routines are in quarters one, two and three, but there are three routines in quarter four).

The same way a football coach calls out plays, it is up to the cheer coaches to call which level routine they think will win their team points. Players have to be on their toes and ready to perform any level routine at any moment.

STUNT is exclusively for all-girl cheerleading teams and has both high school and college divisions.

Unlike most cheerleading uniforms, STUNT team members wear jerseys with numbers. Player statistics can be tracked for each cheerleader throughout the STUNT season.

Many people have asked me if STUNT is hard, and my answer is both yes and no.

The routines work up in difficulty — level one is basic high school skills, and level six is practically impossible. I cannot tell you the amount of late nights I have spent trying to learn my counts for each routine. Every count is specific and when you make a mistake, it is pretty obvious. STUNT requires a ton of work.

Our team has been preparing year-round for this tournament.

Ysela Ross, a first year on the team, said the team has been working hard, adding extra early morning practices and workouts to make sure the athletes will be ready.

During the Big 12 Meet, we will compete against teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, playing a total of six games throughout the weekend.

Our first game is against Davenport University, which won the STUNT National Championships for the last three years. If there was not a lot of pressure before, I can certainly feel it now.

Overall the team seems to be excited, but also nervous heading into the meet.

“I am excited to see how other teams compete and learn from them and also show how much we have improved as a team,” Forrest said.

“I feel as prepared, as we can be considering this is brand new to us. We’re not 100 percent sure on what to expect,” Ross said. “It will be a learning experience for sure.”

While this is the first year the cheerleading team is participating in STUNT, coaches say it will certainly not be their last.

“STUNT will only get more popular over the years,” Haggerty said. “We hope to continue to grow with it, generate interest in it and educate our fans on this new up-and-coming concept.”

Looking forward to this weekend, I feel ready.

We have been working toward STUNT for so long, and it is time to finally show everyone what we can do. I am definitely nervous and stressed — I think most of the team is.

But I have grown confident in my team, and no matter the outcome of the tournament, I am glad to have experienced this journey with my cheer family.

Catherine Stringam is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at or on Twitter @cathey_stringam.

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