Being a sports writer, it’s sometimes difficult to not be the “cheerleader” for that favourite team you’re reporting on.
That all changed for me last Sunday when I decided to take the extra step and try out for the Huskies cheerleading squad.
I haven’t been able to do a somersault since I was a small child, my dancing abilities are less than suave and tripping over myself is second nature. So what would compel someone as physically awkward as me to attempt to perform an activity characterized largely by finesse?
I simply wanted to get a firsthand perspective of this often misunderstood sport and have some laughs along the way. After watching Bring It On repeatedly throughout the weekend, I thought I had gathered the mental confidence needed to compete as a cheerleader. How hard could it be?
I couldn’t have been more incorrect in my pre-emptive judging of cheerleading. Damn, cheerleading is hardcore! I wasn’t even allowed to use the pom-poms I had brought as a flashy prop to distract from my gross choreographic inabilities. As I write this, the day following tryouts, nothing strikes fear deeper inside me than the prospect of climbing the several flights of stairs to get to my political studies lecture in the St. Thomas More building later in the day.
My body is aching like it has never ached beforeÂ — and after innumerable toe-touches, pike jumps, V-snaps, handstand attempts, pyramid formations and vigorous conditioning techniques it will be of great difficulty for me to sit down for upwards of a week.
For those unaware, cheerleading is actually an extreme sport. Like the risk of a nasty wipe out on a skateboard or a spill on a BMX bike, receiving a punch, elbow or knee to the face is a common risk one runs when throwing a spiralling girl several metres in the air.
Todd Knihnitski, heading into his sixth year as head coach of the Huskies cheerleading team, guided me through the tryouts. Knihnitski knows that cheerleading is a fun but demanding sport.
“It challenges you in ways that no other sport really does. It’s very different,” said Knihnitski, also owner of the Prairie Fire Cheerleading club in Saskatoon. “Anyone who has done performance sport, drama or anything like that knows it becomes very fun when you’re performing in front of 5,000 people.”
After haphazardly throwing myself into the antics, I soon became bewildered by the overwhelmingly female majority. Not only did I not know what the hell I was doing, I had to do it in front of oodles of girls. It was terrifying at first.
When it was my turn to showcase my non-existent skills, the first word of advice I received from a Huskies cheerleader as I prepared to throw her above my head was, “Don’t be afraid to grab my arse.” Slightly caught off guard by the blunt comment, I laughed, my nervousness dissipated and after several tries, I managed to shakily hoist, rather than throw, her in the air but it was a start.
Aside from rallying the Huskies football and basketball teams throughout their Canadian Interuniversity Sport seasons, the Huskies cheerleading squad will travel to Toronto in December to compete in nationals against 24 of the best teams from across Canada. Since there is a gap in male and female participation on the team, Knihnitski’s squad competes in the small co-ed division which typically has four or five guys. A tournament in Minneapolis is also potentially in the cards for the team later in the year.
When asked what keeps him coming back to the sport, Knihnitski said it’s the energy behind the performance aspect of cheerleading.
“We were performing perfect routines, the crowd was going bananas, everyone was on their feet, we were yelling and screaming throughout the whole routine and the energy in the building was amazing,” said Knihnitski of a past cheering experience.
“It’s just really a special thing and it doesn’t happen very often. It’s one of those moments and that’s what you strive for in performance sport and especially in cheerleading.”
Regrettably I don’t think my sub-par gymnastic dance skills garnered me any positive attention over the course of the tryout and will likely prevent me from cracking the line-up of the Huskies cheerleading squad anytime soon. Needless to say, I have given up waiting by my phone for Knihnitski’s congratulatory, team-making phone call.
Thankfully the Huskies coach and his cheerleading roster were nice enough not to laugh me out of the gym or ban me from further attending practices altogether. Perhaps better luck will strike me next year.
photo Tristan Becker