JUST over a week ago, they were having the time of their lives, performing at the biggest and most exciting event on their calendars after an entire year of intense rehearsals.
Today, the secondary school cheerleaders of Malaysia are all back in their classrooms, having hung up their pom-poms and cheer uniforms for the rest of year to focus on their exams.
R.AGE spoke to some of them a week after CHEER 2015 – the highlight of the Malaysian cheerleading season – to see how they’re coping.
This year was the last at CHEER for Genevieve Liew, 17, captain of the Cyrens from SM Sri Kuala Lumpur, who will be taking trial exams for her IGCSEs in a week-and-a-half’s time.
“I still can’t believe it! I still don’t believe that CHEER is over for me,” said Liew, sitting in a deathly silent school library.
Securing an interview with her had been tough. Liew’s teachers were understandably keen to avoid any unnecessary interferences to her classes after her exertions during cheer season. Phone numbers were passed back and forth. Appointments were changed, and changed again, until finally, an empty slot opened up.
But that’s only because her teachers are incredibly supportive and understanding when it comes to helping her balance academics and cheerleading, said Liew.
“They’re like, ‘oh sure, take your time; just make sure you send in your work’,” she said. “My teachers don’t want us to just focus on studies, they want us to be all-rounders as well.
“But we still have two more weeks (to trials), so I’m not really that worried.”
Where does this confidence come from? According to Liew, she started revising before cheer practice began, and made sure her knowledge of what she learned the year before was rock solid. “So after the competition, I’d just refresh whatever I studied and made sure I knew what I was studying for.”
Her life sounds perfect, with understanding teachers, loving parents, enthusiastic supporters (think screaming fans in a stadium, which is what the teams at CHEER get every year), solid grades, and to top it off, the captain’s position at the six-time CHEER champions.
No surprise, then, that she constantly brought up memories from CHEER during the interview.
“We had lots of outings, and our parents really helped a lot,” she said. The girls also have a camp at the start of every year to bond, and a victory dinner every end of the year. Even their mothers get in on the fun. The “cheer moms” (as they call them around the world) have a Whatsapp group to organize events and activities for the cheerleaders.
But Liew isn’t sure what she wants to do next. The thought of leaving Cyrens was so unimaginable she said she has to give herself some time before deciding on where to go after school.
“There’s just something really special about Cyrens. We’re a family, and I’m not just saying that. We really feel at home with each other. After CHEER, I just couldn’t accept that it was over. I want to cheer in Cyrens forever, and only Cyrens.
“I’m so sad that I’m not going to get another Cyrens uniform, but I’m very content with the memories I have,” she said. “I wish there’d be more, but I guess we have to let go of the things we love, eventually, right?”
It was a moment captured on multiple cameras and uploaded onto the R.AGE website for all to see, but it has been replaying over and over in Loh Pui Yee’s mind ever since.
“I just keep thinking about what happened that day,” said the Dynamitez captain from SMK Damansara Jaya.
She was referring to the first minute of her team’s CHEER 2015 routine where she fell after doing a toss. Her performance after that was nearly flawless, but it was too late. The team instantly knew it wouldn’t be enough to win the hyper-competitive All-Girls category.
Like Liew, Loh is in her final year of secondary school, and her teachers have been giving her a dose of tough love to make sure she gets back up to speed.
Her teachers have been firm with her the whole time – if she missed any homework or assignments because of cheerleading practice, they would not give her any marks.
“The first day of school after CHEER, I was like, ‘oh, back to reality. I need to study again!’” she said with a laugh, finally breaking her sombre mood. Since coming back, she has managed to pull up her bootstraps and do the required hours of revision to catch up.
Her parents will take this as good news. “After the competition, they were like, ‘okay, CHEER is over already hah. Time to focus on your SPM already’.”
One thing’s for sure, though – her parents are definitely proud of her.
They’ve been showing their friends videos of her performance repeatedly (they’re all on rage.com.my/cheer. #JustSaying). One of their friends even sent a Whatsapp message saying: “Fuyoh, your daughter is a superstar!”
Her classmates were just as supportive, having made a “Cutest cheerleader” sash to welcome her back to class.
And even though her studies took a backseat for a few weeks, she learned plenty from her experience as a cheerleader – things which can’t be taught in a classroom.
Loh now plans to go into event management, having enjoyed managing the team throughout the year.
“Being captain was a really good experience,” she said. “I dare to speak out a lot more now. It also taught me how to work better with other people, because we have 16 girls in a team, so unity is really important.”
Unlike Loh and Liew, Sashaa Long, 16, will still be in secondary school next year, but she’ll be stepping down as the captain of the Stompers from SMK Bandar Utama Damansara (3).
“It has been tiring being captain for the past two years,” she said. “But since CHEER ended, I don’t feel the weight on my shoulders anymore.”
Being captain comes with a lot of responsibility, and over the past two years, Long has had to learn to deal with her fair share of pressure.
“I’m usually in school, running around, handing out permission slips, ordering T-shirts, handling a lot of money,” she said.
The one thing Long is still trying to get used to is the excess energy she has now that she doesn’t have to attend CHEER practice. Over the next few weeks, she’ll be working on redirecting that energy to her studies.
For a 16-year-old, it’s safe to say Long has had more experience running a team than most girls her age. She’s one of the youngest CHEER captains, and probably most experienced for her age; but next year, she’ll be passing the captain’s cap down to one of her juniors.
“Cheerleading is my interest. I love my team and I put it as my number one priority, but now I need to start focusing on my studies, because I’m taking my SPM next year.”
Despite choosing to step down as captain, she says the past two years have been an invaluable learning experience. She and her teammates remain as close as ever, she has emerged a stronger person after two years as a captain, and she has set higher expectations of herself for her studies next year.
And with that extra year to focus on her SPM, Long may be able to have the best of both worlds after all.