High school cheer: why it's unfair to overlook skill level to age

Sideline cheer is a very popular activity that many high schoolers partake in, but with everything, there is controversy. Cherokee High School picks teams based on grade level rather than the skills and athletic abilities.

Now this is nothing new at Cherokee. For years now, juniors and seniors have made varsity cheer while underclassmen make either the JV team or freshmen team.

This is unlike any other team-based sport at Cherokee. For other sports, like soccer or softball, freshmen can make Varsity if their skill aligns with the qualifications for that specific team. This is unlike sideline cheer, which is focused on spirit rather than organized by athletic abilities.

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Cherokee’s Varsity cheer team raising their megaphones in the air [Photo Source: Alek Pace]

Uncovering the truth

Now when I heard cheerleaders from Cherokee talking about this topic, I was perplexed. Why would something that helped pump up the crowd and the football team be limited to fewer people if they were more than qualified to be included? I decided to sit down with Coach Adams, assistant principal and the Athletic Director at Cherokee High School, to find what was happening behind the scenes.

We thought it was important that kids cheer for kids their age when it came to sideline… Sideline cheer is a spirit-driven squad more over skill-based, while competition cheer is more of a skill-based squad.

Jeremy Adams, Cherokee AD

If you have ever been to a Cherokee home football game, you would know that multiple sophomores play on the varsity football team, so qualifying cheerleaders could still be cheering for team members in their grade level.

Also, most of the time cheerleaders are facing the crowd, which consists of all grade levels from freshmen to seniors. So if they featured cheerleaders based on skill, they would still be cheering for their own grade.

When conducting a poll to see if high schoolers would rather see cheerleaders based on talent rather than grade level, the votes came back as 85% would rather see skill while 15% would want older cheerleaders.

[Photo Source: Twitter @chswarriorword]

I decided to seek out people who had voted and been to multiple football games. I decided to contact a male student at Cherokee, who would prefer to remain anonymous on this subject.

People who have been working their whole lives to be put on Varsity have to wait. It isn’t fair to those who put everything into the sport just to be second-best due to grade level.

Student at Cherokee High School

While researching for this article, I discovered Cherokee High School was one of the only schools that does this in Cherokee County. Multiple freshmen made varsity at other schools because their tryouts are based on skill rather than just being able to recite a cheer.

  • Woodstock High School – 9 freshmen
  • River Ridge High School – 10 freshmen
  • Creekview High School – 4 freshmen

Creekview is considered to be the best cheer team in Cherokee County. They are the most organized and have the hardest tryouts. Their cheerleaders tryout for the team with tumbling, stunting, complex cheers and dances, unlike Cherokee tryouts. Most of Creekview’s sideline cheerleaders go to college on cheer scholarships.

Some begin training in cheer early, such as early grade levels, building background experience in skills that may benefit a Varsity cheer team when cheering alongside beginners.

If the best cheer team in the county is basing teams off of skill rather than how old they are, what does that mean for Cherokee?

A cheerleader’s and coach’s perspective

To finish off this deep dive into the world of cheer, it needs to be completed with cheerleaders opinions on the subject. Some are worried that Cherokee’s cheer team is going to fall behind in skill to other schools in the county while others prefer to cheer by grade level.

I think that when choosing cheerleaders for sideline, it should be heavily based on grade level because you learn different things as you go up in the cheer teams and if you are cheering for a football team, it should be the players who are in your grade and who you know.

Varsity Cheerleader at Cherokee

After asking questions to other cheerleaders, I found out that there is nothing really different between the two teams. Neither teams do skills nor stunts. The only difference is that Varsity cheerleaders do cheers along to the band’s music; they do a dance at tryouts and they own megaphones.

JV and Freshmen cheer back in October [Photo Source: Alek Pace]

I also decided to get the point of view from an underclassmen. Obviously the views are going to be different because of bias, but I think its important to see both sides of this controversy.

It’s not fair how some of them are good enough to be on Varsity and possibly better than half the varsity girls, but they can’t make the team because of age. A lot of other high schools do it based off of level. I know people who have been seniors on JV and freshman on Varsity, but they knew that it was because they weren’t good enough and they thought it was fair. I don’t even understand how they pick who is on what team because we just do a cheer and jumps no tumbling no stunting and only varsity does a tryout dance. It’s not even a hard tryout. It needs to be changed.

JV Cheerleader at Cherokee High School

We asked Ms. Holton, sideline cheer coach for CHS, to provide an explanation of the process. She provided more context as well.

The competition cheer squad is organized by skill level.  This fall, CHS will have both JV and Varsity Competition squads.  The Competition squad is the sport squad which competes against other schools in our region and the state.  Therefore, it is skill-based. The Sideline squads are support squads and are mostly grade level squads.  The 9th grade cheerleaders cheer on their peers on the 9th grade football team; the 10th grade (JV) cheerleaders cheer on their peers on the JV football team and the 11th & 12th grade cheerleaders cheer on their peers on the Varsity Football team. You don’t have to be a sideline cheerleader to be a competition cheerleader and you you don’t have to be a competition cheerleader to be a sideline cheerleader.  There are girls who only want to do one or the other and there are some girls who want to do both. 

Ms. Holton, Sideline Cheer Coach, CHS

Overall, it seems that this issue will most likely not change. The problem seems to be the lack of skill shown in tryouts combined with the obvious preference to age. Schools will also tend to make the choices that work best for their needs, and not all answers will be equally received. After considerable research and interviews, it seems like no matter who may be in agreement or not, this will continue to stay the same.

What are your thoughts?

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