UBC Cheer is bringing cheerleading from the sidelines to the spotlight

Too often, cheerleading is stereotyped as girls just waving pompoms. But the UBC Cheer Club shows just how physically and mentally demanding a sport cheer really is at competitions across the Lower Mainland.

Emma Quan, a fifth-year base on the team, emphasizes that what makes a good cheerleader is athleticism and a mentality of "wanting to grow and improve."

The cheerleaders on the team come from different athletic backgrounds, ranging from All-Star cheer to gymnastics to rugby, and all train six to seven hours a week.

“Especially collegiate level competitive cheer [demands] … the diversity of athleticism that you need to have because it’s not just dance,” she said. “There’s the performance part of it, there's endurance, there's strength, confidence [and] memorization that make up a cheer routine. I think that can surprise people. They’re like ‘Oh, you’re not just waving pompoms?’ No.”

"There's an expectation that we are working on ourselves individually, to keep improving our strength or endurance or flexibility outside of practice as well," said Quan. "Because practice is meant to be teamwork time."

Being a team player is a key aspect of cheerleading and one that helps keep everyone safe. Teslyn Buehler, a second-year flier for the team, speaks of the trust she places in her stunt group when she flips above them.

“If somebody doesn’t do their job exactly right, it just doesn’t work out, because I’m up there … they’re holding me and my job is [to trust] that they’re going to catch me,” Buehler said. “If one person doesn’t show up to practice … your stunt can’t go. It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’ll just do it.’ It’s the teamwork. That makes it really special for me.”

Although teamwork is necessary for the execution of their routine, it also creates a sense of community. During a game in Quan’s first year on the team, it was pouring rain.

“We were absolutely drenched … it was one of those things where that should have been miserable … It was cold. It was wet,” Quan added, “But it was so fun, because everybody made it so fun.”

Program co-directors and coaches of the UBC Cheer Lana Fuenning and Melanie Martens work hard to create a positive team environment.

“That was something we never wanted to compromise,” Fuenning said. “We never wanted to push other things [such as] skills or difficulty, if it meant that we’re putting [togetherness] to the side.”

Fuenning and Martens competed together on the University of Victoria cheer team and are now both graduate students at UBC. During their years as athletes, they’ve had some negative experiences with coaches and hope to change that narrative for their team.

“I think as pretty young coaches … we can still very much relate to our athletes and I feel like it hopefully negates as much as it can that power dynamic that can sometimes exist in coaching,” Fuenning said.

With the start of the new season, Fuenning is looking forward to redefining people’s view of cheer and the team in the UBC community.

“The past few years, the team has been handed from coach to coach to coach, and I think a lot of things have fallen through,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is to pick up all those pieces and put it together so that [UBC Cheer] is a functioning team and is able to contribute to the community and be more active and seen.”

“Just because we don’t take a ball doesn’t mean it’s not a sport. That’s been a big thing that I’ve had to drill into people,” said Fuenning.

— With files from Eliza Mahon