Young athletes from across southern Alberta competed in the fifth annual Imagine Cheer and Dance Championship at Enmax Centre in Lethbridge on Saturday.
These athletes are not only letting everyone know how cheerful they can be but are also showcasing their immense strength onstage.
“When you go onto that mat, you think that… everyone is cheering you on. It’s just awesome because all of the teams love and care about everybody… I just love it a lot,” said Taylah Gilbert, a cheerleader from the Silver Lining team in Lethbridge.
Each year, the championship welcomes more than 1,000 athletes, 100 coaches and 3,500 spectators.
The best cheerleading teams in southern Alberta compete for the title.
But the event is not only about fierce competition, pretty costumes or even glamorous hair and makeup.
“There is a huge stereotype in cheerleading that it’s ‘Ra Ra Pom Pom’ but these boys and girls are athletes,” said event organizer Samantha Paradee.
Paradee emphasized how much strength and endurance are needed for the moves the athletes are expected to pull off.
“Tossing boys and girls into the air extremely high, they are jumping, they are tumbling,” she said.
“They are throwing gymnastic skills that are out of this world and they pack it into a two-and-a-half-minute routine.”
She highlighted the fact that the sport is intended for everyone, despite misconceptions that cheerleading is strictly for females.
The sport also brings athletes together, helping them bond and form lasting friendships through the many days of practice and competition. However, at the end of the day, the athletes and coaches Global News spoke to said that it is all about having fun and making memories.
“I tell them every single competition that they’ve already proven themselves to me and to each other, and they just need to have fun and do the sport they love,” said Jocelyn Shields, the coach of the Diamond Elite team from Okotoks, Alta.
“And do the best they can, which is… really great.”
For some athletes, cheerleading is more than just a hobby — it is what brightens bad days.
“Before cheer, I didn’t really have a passion or anything that I liked, but when I joined cheer, it was like one of my favourite things,” said Tori Jack, a Silver Lining cheerleader.