IN 2010, the Cyrens cheerleading team from SM Sri Kuala Lumpur was on the verge of being disbanded.
The team had been around for a decade at the time, having competed since the inaugural edition of CHEER (Malaysia’s biggest cheerleading competition) back in 2000, without ever winning.
“The school was about to cut the team because we hadn’t been doing well, but after our parents had a discussion with the school, they decided to give us one last shot to prove ourselves,” said Cheong Shu-Fei, the Cyrens’ captain at the time.
And it’s a good thing they stuck with the team, because CHEER 2010 marked the incredible rise of the Cyrens, who are now one of the most dominant secondary school sporting teams in the country.
Not only have they won CHEER a record five years in a row since (including the recently concluded CHEER 2014 at Stadium Putra, Bukit Jalil), they’ve done it in astounding fashion, delivering incredible stunts and routines that just seem to get better every year.
And according to Cheong, it’s all thanks to the school – teachers, students, coaches, etc. – who came together in 2010 to give the talented but erstwhile unlucky team one final push.
“The school paid for our coaching fees, outfits, performance props, shirts for the supporters and transport to the competition. Our parents also helped by finding sponsors for makeup and other necessities. Because of them, we were able to focus fully on our routine,” added Cheong.
That year, over 600 supporters from the school showed up for the CHEER finals, compared to 20 the year before, and the team hasn’t looked back since.
These days, the school allocates a budget of over RM10,000 to both the Cyrens and their younger sister team, the Rayvens, who made their debut three years ago with a second place finish at CHEER 2011 – behind the Cyrens, of course.
But school funding alone doesn’t make champions. Current Cyrens captain Rachel Lu, fresh off leading the team to its record-breaking fifth champions’ trophy at CHEER, revealed just how committed the Cyrens cheerleaders are to the team.
“We practice all year round, four times a week for three hours per session, just to be physically prepared for CHEER,” said Lu. And they don’t just practise their cheerleading routines. They also do gymnastics, strength and stamina work with qualified coaches, just like a professional sporting outfit – which they pretty much are these days, even though they’re all still teenagers.
Many of the senior team members could go on to have professional cheerleading careers, especially with the recent success of All-Star teams (internationally recognised elite cheerleading teams) in Malaysia. Those who retire from secondary school cheerleading can now choose to have part-time All-Star careers while they complete their tertiary education.
Lu, however, hopes to get involved in her university team when she leaves for her studies in the United States, where varsity cheerleading is a huge thing.
“I’m a base in Malaysia, but when I go to the US, they’ll probably make me a flyer!” she said with a laugh.
Closer to home, the principal of Sri KL secondary school Chew Teck Ann said cheerleading, and the Cyrens’ success, has had an immensely positive impact on the school.
“The synergy between everyone – parents, teachers, coaches and students – is really good, and because of that, the team is stronger, and the school is more united than ever. Everyone has something to be proud of, and it binds everyone together,” said Chew.
“And it’s very important the team feels supported because if the school isn’t behind them and everything they do, it won’t work. The school has to support its students and recognise their potential.”
The chief teacher in charge of cheerleading at Sri KL, Radhika Menon, said the sport has been hugely beneficial for the cheerleaders too.
“Cheerleading trains the girls in terms of teamwork, communication skills, leadership and staying optimistic.
“It also helps with their college applications because to be good in both extracurricular activities and academics, the students have to be extremely bright. So it does give them an advantage,” said Radhika, who has been with the team for the past seven years.
Cheong, who’s now studying fashion merchandising management at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology in the US, agrees.
“I think secondary school education isn’t just about academics but also character building. They have to be all-rounders. That benefits the students in so many ways and gives them the potential to go far in their lives,” said Chew.
* CHEER 2014 was organised by R.AGE and co-sponsored by SimplySiti and U Mobile. Red FM was the official radio station. To find out more about CHEER, go to facebook.com/thestarCHEER.