THERE’S a saying cheerleaders have: in other sports, if you miss the catch, all you drop is the ball.
“The worst thing I’ve seen was a girl, who had been thrown in the air, landing on the team-mate who was supposed to catch her,” says Suzanne O’Hara. “She broke her neck.”
It is a tale to make one wince.
Especially today when, in a gym off Collegiate Crescent, a procession of Sheffield lasses are constantly being thrown skyward or forming gravity-defying pyramids on the shoulders of team-mates.
Welcome, reader, to Sheffield Hallam Cheer training.
The university squad is hard at practice because, next month, they travel to Florida to compete against 30 other sides in the World University Cheerleading Championships.
They are the only UK team in the tournament which is so highly regarded in the US, it is broadcast on national TV. The group qualified after finishing third in a national competition this year. The two teams above them declined the invite.
“Am I excited?” says Suzanne, the 22-year-old coach and environmental studies graduate of Broomhall. “So much. This is the pinnacle of cheerleading. To be representing Sheffield is huge.”
Winning won’t be easy.
Their routine takes just two and half minutes, and is performed for judges only once. But it has taken nine months of choreographing, practicing and perfecting.
“We train for 16 hours every week,” says Jade March, a 23-year-old corporate communications post graduate. “It’s not like football where you have 90 minutes to get it right. You’ve got to be perfect in those 150 seconds.”
Which in this case means lots of spinning, stunting, pyramiding and, yep, throwing and catching. But – it’s important this bit – absolutely no pop-poms.
“That’s everyone’s first question,” says Jade, of Ecclesall Road. “‘Do you use pom-poms?’ It’s annoying because it suggests all we do is wave coloured balls about.
“Some teams do that – especially in America – but there’s far more to it. This is a really hard sport. It’s girly and you wear nice outfits, but you have to be a real athlete too. If people say it’s not a proper workout, I tell them to do one of our routines and then get back to me.”
The team – made up of 22 students aged 18-25 – fly out on January 15.
It’s not all about the Lycra outfits
THE next time you’re asked to cheerlead, remember:
It’s not all about the outfits: underneath that colourful Lycra you need to be an athletic machine. “We warm up with a 4km run,” notes Jade March.
Prepare to practise: if cheerleading were easier, one saying goes, they’d call it football.
Think Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On: cheerleaders smile when they perform. It hides a rut hlessly competitive side.
No pain no gain: “I’ve had sprains, bruises, bumps and bangs,” says coach Suzanne O’Hara. “Always worth it.”