THE 39 secondary school cheerleading teams that competed at CHEER 2015 came from very different backgrounds. Some had to sell T-shirts at school just so they could buy their uniforms; others had sponsors who could pay for pretty much everything they needed.
Some of the students will go on to have full-time careers as professional athletes, cheerleaders and coaches. Others, like Team Ignite from SMK Bandar Baru Uda, were there because a dedicated teacher believes a positive sport like cheerleading could help them turn their lives around.
But whatever their differences, when they all gathered at the CHEER 2015 Finals last Saturday at the Sunway Pyramid Convention Centre, they were united in their passion for a sport that has taught them discipline, teamwork, determination and sportsmanship.
Despite their fierce will to win, having trained all year for CHEER 2015, the teams and their supporters could be heard cheering their rivals on – and some of these teams have been rivals for over a decade at CHEER.
This mutual respect and support has become a trademark of CHEER as much as the cheerleaders’ incredible stunts.
“What CHEER has taught me is that there’s more to just winning,” said Genevieve Liew, 17, captain of the Cyrens from SM Sri Kuala Lumpur. “It has made me a better, more compassionate person because I have so many teammates to care for.”
The Cyrens won a remarkable sixth consecutive CHEER All-Girls category title this year, making them the most successful team in the 16-year history of CHEER. Their sister team, Rayvens, also won their category, All-Girls Junior, for a third time in a row.
But that CHEER spirit isn’t confined to the students at the event. For many of the teams, the event has helped bring together everyone at their schools – students, teachers and parents.
Most schools chartered buses to bring supporters to the event, including SMK Ave Maria Convent, Ipoh. They sent four buses full of supporters to KL to cheer on their school’s teams, Titans Senior and Titans Junior.
And with a sport as demanding as cheerleading, parental support is crucial. That’s where the term “cheer parent” came about – and it’s used around the world.
“Our parents helped us a lot, with makeup and bringing us food and water. We are so thankful to them, as well as everyone who came to support us,” said Yim Hor Yew, 17, captain of Calyx All-Girls, SMJK Katolik. Her team put in a brilliant performance to finish second in the All-Girls category.
The other big winner of the day was the Mickeymitez from SMK Damansara Jaya, who claimed top spot in the Co-Ed category (for mixed-gender teams), popular for its high-flying stunts. They reclaimed the title from defending champions Zodiac Co-Ed, whose hopes this year were dashed by a few minor slips during their routine.
“The gap between the top teams is closing,” said CHEER 2015 head judge and Cheerleading Association and Register of Malaysia president Beverly Hon. “It now requires far more careful deliberation before we can award a winner, but that’s good because it shows the sport is progressing,” she added.
CHEER 2015 was supported this year by two brands – U Mobile, the co-sponsor, and Clean & Clear, the official skincare partner – and both their representatives at the finals were incredibly impressed.
“It looks easy, but there are a lot of physical and emotional challenges to cheerleading, and we really admire the cheerleaders for their skill and tenacity,” said Clean & Clear group brand manager June Yap.
U Mobile chief marketing officer Jasmine Lee was glad to finally learn more about the cheerleaders’ personal stories, through the CHEER video series produced by R.AGE. “I loved them! They show people that cheerleading is not a frivolous activity. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it, and we love the fighting spirit the cheerleaders showed in the videos!”
Some of the celebrities who took part in R.AGE’s CHEER Celebrity Supporter campaign were also at the finals to support their adopted teams, and they were blown away as well.
YouTuber Reuben Kang was visibly touched by what he saw. “We watched a lot of the R.AGE videos before the teams came on and we were just holding back our tears listening to the stories,” said Reuben, who was there with fellow YouTubers Marianne Tan, Jared Lee, Dennis Yin and Dan Khoo.
Deputy education minister P. Kamalanathan, guest of honour at CHEER 2015, was so impressed, he said he hoped to see cheerleading incorporated into Malaysian schools’ physical education curriculum.
He said: “I think god sent me here today for good reason – to see how electrifying cheerleading can be!”