There’s cheerleading, and then there’s competitive cheerleading
The cheerleading that adults are most familiar with takes place at athletic events such as football and basketball games, where the cheerleaders try to inspire the spectators. But in recent years, another form of cheerleading has grabbed the country’s interest: competitive cheerleading.
“Competitive cheerleading is a carefully choreographed 2½-minute routine,” says Meg Trott-McConnell, program director for Lowcountry Elite All-Star Cheerleading which is part of the Charleston Recreation Department’s program and is held at the James Island Recreation Complex.
“The score sheet in a competition routine consists of a tumbling component, stunting, jumps and dance. There’s lots of choreography, a lot of formation changes, a lot of motions and techniques. There’s showmanship and how much energy you show.”
Trott-McConnell, 32, was captain of the cheerleading team at James Island High School about the time All-Star cheerleading began to emerge, first being shown on ESPN. She found that she enjoyed the competition side and began volunteering, first teaching gymnastics. Trott-McConnell earned a master’s degree in communication from the College of Charleston but elected not to cheer.
Five years ago, she formed Lowcountry Elite All-Star Cheerleading (lowcountry elite.com), a competitive program for youths ages 4-18. There are 82 youths enrolled in the program, and for the first time, it includes two male cheerleaders.
There are six levels in competitive cheerleading, and Lowcountry Elite has six teams competing on levels 1-3. Trott-McConnell has four paid assistant coaches and four unpaid assistants. “It’s a big commitment for the kids,” she said.
The season begins in August and continues until May, with the Level 1 teams practicing once a week and Level 2 and Level 3 teams practicing twice a week. Team members also take tumbling classes once a week. The cost is $40 a month for the younger participants and $70 for the older cheerleaders.
The team has seven competitions scheduled, traveling to Columbia, Savannah, Myrtle Beach and Charlotte. The team tries to raise money to help defray the costs, which includes uniforms.
Trott-McConnell stresses community involvement. Lowcountry Elite has performed at the Bishop Gadsden Retirement Community and then spent time interacting with the residents.
Competitive cheerleading is a physical sport. Trott-McConnell said the team does conditioning, flexibility and strength training. Members are encouraged to take dance, which better equips them to handle routines.
Lowcountry Elite works to make sure the cheerleaders are safe. Coaches are certified by the U.S. All-Star Federation, competitive cheerleading’s governing body, and trained in first aid. Instruction takes place on an incremental level, and over the program’s five years there has been only one broken bone. The most common injury, she said, is from overuse.
“My hope is that our numbers continue to increase so more kids can enjoy the excitement and rewards of competitive cheer,” Trott-McConnell said. “We started with 23 kids and two teams in 2008, and now we have 82 kids and six teams. We want to continue to train and build our current kids and watch them grow as athletes in this sport. It’s really cool to see kids we had five years ago continually improve and develop as cheerleaders.”