Inaugural Competition a success for UWI’s Cheerleaders
On Easter Monday, the UWI cheerleading team was crowned champions at the Palo Seco Desert Park. The event held was the Siparia Regional Corporation Challenge Trophy cheerleading and dance competition. The competition featured various cheer teams from the south land as well as the UWI team as the sole guests. The event was also carded as a community sports day, where as well as dominating the field in the cheer competition, UWI the team also copped a number of other accolades during the course of the event.
With origins in the US, cheerleading as an activity has been in existence for over a century, with the official birth date of organised cheerleading being on November 2nd 1898. Through mass media, we know that it is most widely used at sporting events with the purpose of entertaining the crowd at the half-time intervals of the respective sport. Initially, cheerleading teams consisted only of male participants but in 1923 women were incorporated because of the lack of female collegiate sports at the time. Today, about 97% of the participants are female although a significant number of males do actively take part. In the early 20th century cheerleading evolved into a sport because of the gymnastic athleticism displayed by female participants. The sport has spread to several countries World Wide and is run by the International Cheer Union. Despite of this widespread recognition, Trinidad and Tobago has yet to emulate that international following. That situation is undoubtedly upon the swift wings of change.
In Trinidad and Tobago, cheerleading has existed for about a decade. However despite that fact, it has only recently been introduced as a sport. The National Cheer Foundation is attempting to standardise and propagate cheerleading through the Ministry of Sport. As a result, the University of the West Indies Sport and Physical Education Centre (UWISPEC) initiated formal training in the sport in December 2008. Dr. Iva Gloudan director of UWISPEC had a vision to promote the UWI cheerleading team along sporting lines. Hence she has sought to establish this team as the nation’s first of its kind; a professional cheerleading team. The main coaches are Allan Balfour (male coach and choreographer) and Kamlan Aleong (female coach and gymnastics trainer) along with two other trainers in fitness. Their training comprises of dance, gymnastics and fitness training. The team initially was formed for the UWI Games in 2009, but has continued to be a part of all UWI SPEC activities. Over the past year, the team endured a rigourous training regime honing their acrobatic skills and dance routines. This was clearly evident based on their performance in preparation for and at the competition itself.
The team met at the UWISPEC facility and departed at 9.00 am. On the lengthy trip to the venue, the overall mood by the team members was merry and jovial to say the least. Unlike other sporting teams, there was absolutely no tension whatsoever in the buildup to the main event. The team arrived at the Palo Seco Desert Park before schedule and proceeded to the nearby Palo Seco Beach Camp, where they were able to have lunch, relax and make final preparations for the main event. After a light stretching routine and training session the team returned to the venue where a large crowd had already gathered. The event commenced at 3.00pm with the obligatory singing of the national anthem, afterward it was carded that the UWI team would perform their routine in second place. The first team performed creditably in front of an enthusiastic crowd of about 600 people. However no one could have been prepared for what came next. From the moment the UWI cheer team emerged, no one could deny their overflowing energy and zeal. They performed admirably and immediately stole the support of the crowd. Their routine was a combination of cheering, choreographed dancing, acrobatic feats, gymnastics and also the signature cheerleading tradition of human pyramid building. There aren’t many adjectives that can adequately describe the performance but astounding could be used for a start! There was only one winner; the UWI cheerleading team, who were overall champions as well as winners of the award for best choreography. However, they received the second prize for the best uniform. With the business end of the event complete, the team proceeded to enjoy the rest of the day and immersed themselves in the event taking part in various races that were on hand. The UWI team dominated those as well; most notably winning first place in the “Long Distance Kiss Race” and “Balance ‘d’ Cup” events respectively.
In my opinion, the day was very successful and more than likely will be the spring board for many other events of its kind in the future. It was an historic event seeing that it was the first official cheer competition in the country, and based on the high standard set by the UWI team will encourage many others to compete in future competitions. From my observation, I think that many positives could be gleaned from being a cheerleader. Other than the overt benefits such as physical fitness and flexibility, other qualities such as teamwork and mutual respect can be developed by the practitioners. From the start, there was a great camaraderie and team spirit among the group which was enlightening to see. Hence when cheerleading is made into one of our nation’s mainstream sporting disciplines, there will definitely be many long term benefits for our young athletes.