Cheerleading Varsity 2014

Former Tab Sport editor CHRIS MCKEON gives an outsiders view the Cambridge Cougar’s victory in the 2014 Varsity Cheerleading competition

Cambridge Cougars Cambridge University cheerleading Chris McKeon funding Futurecheer Sport Tab Varsity 2014

Fans of the 90s Kirsten Dunst classic Bring It On may have had a better idea of what to expect from a cheerleading competition. I, however, followed the Cambridge Cougars to Bath University for FutureCheer’s national university championships with little idea of what was to follow.

It is tempting not to take cheerleading seriously. It is, after all, the only athletic event I’ve attended where the warm-up involved hairspray and eyeliner. Bath’s sports hall was full of the stuff, and a small group of girls from Glasgow colonised one corner by the door for their hair curlers.

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On top of all this, the uniforms were pretty much as you would expect – short skirts and spandex– and marks were awarded not just for the routines, but for the often ridiculous ‘cheer faces’ made while performing them. (But I am told that marks are also deducted for overly vulgar or sexualised routines). There was, however, not a pom-pom in sight.

But it is much more challenging than all this might suggest. Think hyperactive team gymnastics, with teams throwing their ‘flyers’ into the air, or lifting them to arms length above their heads while they contort themselves with impressive flexibility. Along with all the hairspray and make-up, it involves bruises, pain and a fair amount of work for the local paramedic team.

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Cambridge were competing in two events. First up was the all-girl level two competition. The routine went fairly well, though a couple of falls left the team feeling fairly despondent about their chances in the run up to the main event – the Varsity match.

Going into the warm-up, Oxford were the louder and more up-beat, but halfway through it was announced that Cambridge had come third out of thirteen – behind only ARU and the all-conquering Leeds. Never have I seen the mood at an event change so quickly. The Cougars became louder, the smiles wider and Oxford looked nervous.

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In the end, that momentum paid off. Oxford, who usually compete at co-ed level three, performed an impressive routine, but Cambridge executed everything near-perfectly and with an energy and aggression which impressed the judges. The Cougars came away with both the Varsity trophy, and the comically large ‘Champion of Champions’ trophy, for scoring the most point in FutureCheer’s ‘Varsity Round’, defeating KCL, UCL, Oxford Brookes and Reading.

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It had been an exceptional routine, and doubly so given the total lack of support the girls receive. Not only do they lack sponsorship, even the University refuses to give them the pittance they afford other sports – an outrage when even the likes of Dancesport receives university funding. I fail to see how cheerleading is less deserving. Perhaps it is even more deserving, given the strength required.

Those other teams with more supportive universities travelled down the night before, got a decent night’s sleep in a hotel and performed better because of it. Cambridge, on the other hand, were up at 2am on the day for a five hour coach journey to Bath in order to be at the venue in good time. With a decent sleep the night before, they could have done even better.

Still, they could be satisfied that their six hours a week of training had paid off in that glorious performance against Oxford. With a little more help, they could go a long way.

A video of the team’s full routine can be seen here.