In December 2016, the International Olympic Committee granted competitive cheerleading provisional recognition, opening the door to possible future inclusion as an official Olympic sport.
Now if you’re raising your eyebrows at the possibility of cheerleaders competing for Olympic medals, let’s get this straight: competitive cheerleading is nothing like the pom-pom-waving young ladies on the sidelines at NFL and NBA games.
Rather, it’s a high-energy mix of synchronized acrobatics, lifts and tumbling all performed to music.
You’ll be able to see for yourself on Jan. 27 when the Imagine Cheer and Dance Championship comes to the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge.
Hosted by Perfect Storm Athletics Lethbridge, the newest all-star cheerleading event on the provincial calendar has grown by leaps and bounds since its introduction in 2016. The first year, the Lethbridge event featured about 550 participants. Last year, the numbers swelled to 850, and this year, organizers are expecting close to 1,700 competitors from throughout Alberta as well as B.C. and Saskatchewan.
The rapid growth of the Lethbridge event is reflective of the growth of the sport of competitive cheerleading, says Stan Lopez, co-owner along with Sam Paradee of Perfect Storm Athletics in Lethbridge.
Paradee is also the coach of the highly successful G.S. Lakie Middle School cheer team as well as the city’s first elementary school cheer program, at the new Coalbanks Elementary School, where she coaches three teams. The school teams will be looking to earn berths in the provincial championships which will be hosted in Lethbridge in April, since the Imagine competition serves as the South Zone Alberta Cheerleading Association and Alberta Schools Athletic Association qualifying event.
Although the Imagine competition is still new, it’s already the third-largest cheer and dance event in the province, says Lopez, who notes the recognition by the International Olympic Committee has helped spur interest in cheerleading.
Cheerleading, he says, “is an easy sport to get into.” It’s a mix of gymnastics and dance that attracts participants from a wide range of ages — “from 3 to 43,” he says.
It’s an activity that also accommodates all body shapes and sizes. “There’s always a spot for an athlete who’s either tall or short.”
There’s room for all abilities, too, with six skill levels offered at Perfect Storm Athletics. The programs include an All-Star level, which is competitive cheerleading; Prep, a less intense competitive level; and Recreational, a fun class which introduces participants to the basics of stunting and tumbling.
The sport is also gaining popularity as a fun way to stay fit.
“People just really enjoy the active part of the sport,” says Lopez, noting the sport’s mix of lifts, gymnastic elements and dance elements, which combine to offer a good cardiovascular workout.
The Imagine Cheer and Dance Championship will offer something for spectators, too, even those who might not have family competing.
“It’s a very flashy sport,” says Lopez, noting the blend of gymnastic elements and high-energy movements featured in the two-and-a-half-minute routines offers “a lot of excitement.”
Last year’s Imagine competition attracted about 3,500 spectators throughout the day, Lopez says, and with the larger number of competitors coming this year, he expects the number of spectators will climb, too.
The Enmax Centre will once again serve as the venue for the event, with doors scheduled to open at 8 a.m. and competition starting at 10 a.m. and continuing into the early evening.
Tickets are available in advance at the Enmax Ticket Centre, priced at $17.50 for general admission (ages 9 and older) and $11.50 for ages 4-8. Ages 3 and under are admitted free.
Find out more on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ImagineCheerDanceChampionship/. For more about Perfect Storm Athletics, visit http://www.perfectstormathletics.com/lethbridge-home.