Stereotypes surrounding cheerleading have a history that dates back decades and are concepts most people grew up hearing.
Assumptions like “cheerleaders are dumb” or “cheerleading isn’t a real sport” are common when discussing the topic of cheerleading. But for many, cheerleading is a lot more than its stereotypes.
As University of New Mexico cheerleaders, sophomores Amaia Bracamontes and JC Oellien have been confronted by these “standards” that seem to define them as athletes.
“I’ve been cheering for a long time and I think that cheerleaders work really hard. And it’s all behind the scenes what people don’t see,” Bracamontes said. “So, I think they don’t realize that it’s just as hard as any other sport. I mean we put in the same amount of work.”
As a student who has been cheerleading from a young age, Bracamontes described just how much time and energy goes in to perfecting every lift, tumble and routine. Along with their weekly three-hour practice, the squad commits time to practicing with a trainer and weight training every week to maintain their skills.
Oellien, who is a long-time athlete but a first-time cheerleader this season, says cheer is one of the hardest sports he’s done due to the skill and technique that goes into it. He also described cheer as being his favorite sport he’s done so far.
Another typical stereotype cheerleader’s face is the idea that all squad members are skinny. Oellien said that in this sport, there are so many different places a person could be essential when it comes to size.
“It depends where your skill set is and what you’re best at. There’s a place for anybody on the team as long as you put effort in,” Bracamontes said.
Madison Baumann, spirit program coordinator, confirmed that the UNM spirit squad isn’t looking for skinny dancers and cheerleaders when they host tryouts. The coaches are looking for athletes who can physically meet the requirements needed to do their jobs as spirit squad members.
Along with physicality, the UNM spirit program also seeks out squad members who are academically successful, debunking any misconception that cheerleaders are ditzy.
“We have some brilliant individuals that are spirit student athletes,” Baumann said. “there is such a wide variety of intellect on the team and they’re all here for different reasons. We try to stress that academics come first, and we are very supportive of that.”
Each spirit participant is required to keep a 2.0 grade point average and be enrolled as a full-time student.
Because the spirit squad is considered a UNM sport, but not an NCAA sport, the team does not receive financial scholarships for their athletes. Baumann says a lot of the members work to pay for college and still manage to keep up with their academics and be a part of the spirit team, making the time commitment to cheer that much more valuable.
The diverse structure of the UNM cheer squad creates a place for any student who makes the team, and that is no exception to any males who want to join the squad. On the coed team, the guys face their own stereotypes.
“A lot people think the stereotype that ‘you’re on the cheer team, you must be gay, and it isn’t like that. There’s mixture of both,” Oellien said. “Anyone thinks that they can come and do this. They think that you’re not as much of an athlete until they try it. And then they try it and they realize how much work it takes.”
The strength that’s needed from the male cheerleaders to support the fliers, and the technique that has to be perfected to keep their flier safe, goes beyond the athlete’s sexual orientation or any other assumption about them.
“I think once our guys get past that initial hesitation of being a cheerleader, they can look past everything those stereotypes may hold because they get addicted to what they’re capable of doing,” Baumann said.
Bracamontes and Oellien wish more people knew more about the ins and outs of the sport, including the competitive side of cheerleading and the behind the scenes practices that makes cheering look easy.
“We are just like every other athletic program here at UNM and we go through times where we can’t do something or we’re working hard to get something, and it is a process,” Bracamontes said, emphasizing on the work they put in to make this program thrive.
The UNM spirit team, including All Girl Cheer, Coed Cheer and Lobo Dance, competed in the UDA/UCA College Nationals in California back in January, with the Coed team finishing in the Game Day Finals.
Despite any stereotypes these athletes may face, there’s no doubt that it takes commitment, hard work and strength to make the Lobo spirit come to life.
Alanie Rael is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers volleyball, hockey and track and field, but also contributes content for football. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @AllyRael.