Almost two centuries after the first Oxford-Cambridge boat race, the rival universities go head-to-head in their first varsity cheerleading competition. Sarah Reid finds out what it takes to be a champion cheerleader.
Forget the boat race this week; Cambridge students already have something to cheer about. The Cambridge Cougars are basking in their recent success against the Oxford Sirens in the UK’s first ever one-on-one varsity cheerleading match – scoring 74% to Oxford’s 60%.
The brainchild of Cougars president Megan Trimble, 21, the contest involved each team performing a two-and-a-half minute routine of dance, jumps, stunts and gymnastics in front of experienced judges. “I wanted to get the competition going because of the requirements for Blue status, one of which being that you need to have had three varsity matches before applying,” says Trimble, a third year at Homerton College.
A ‘Blue’ is awarded to Oxbridge students who have competed in a sport against their rival university team. Not all sports are awarded Blue status, yet with varsity matches already existing in dance and gymnastics, it’s hard to see why cheerleading shouldn’t follow suit.
Oxbridge students aren’t the only ones picking up their pompoms. Membership of the British Cheerleading Association (BCA) has increased from just six teams in 1984, to 825 registered squads with 24,000 individual cheerleaders. Bring it On-style competitions take place all over the country, some attracting up to 3,000 competitors and spectators.
But why has cheerleading gained such a following? Trainee teacher Katherine Scane, 23, who cheered with the Kent University Falcons for four years, thinks adrenaline plays a big part. “I loved performing at comp,” she says. “I got nervous before I went on, but the atmosphere just takes you with it and it’s always such a rush. Then before you know it the two-and-a-half minutes are over and you’ve finished.”
Scane believes that cheerleading can teach you much more than a few acrobatic tricks, and hopes to coach the sport in schools. “It helps you to work well in a team and trust others in your group – a necessity really, if they are going to be throwing you in the air,” she says.
Sounds dangerous? The American Consumer Project Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that in 2011, an estimated 36,288 cheerleading injuries were treated in emergency rooms. The Cambridge Cougars are no different. “We had a couple of injuries as always,” Trimble says. “A flyer sprained her ankle, quite a few people got hit in the face and I had concussion five days before comp.”
Despite the risks, the Cambridge cheerleaders remain dedicated to showing that their sport is not just about glitter and pompoms – especially when it comes to recruiting male members, whose strength helps with stunting.
“Since the competition we have had more boys come to practice,” says Trimble. “They seemed really impressed so hopefully a few of them will continue next year and convince other boys to join the team.”
Food for thought for the Cambridge rowers, at least, if Oxford wins the boat race.