Courtesy Jamie Sapporetti
All Star cheerleading has burst onto the scene and grown in the last decade. The sport has been compared and contrasted with different kinds of cheerleading, such as high school and college cheer, but All Star stands out. The commitment, cost and incredible bonding between teams makes the sport incredibly unique but also hard to understand.
In order to better understand the world of All Star, we have to go back to the beginning, the roots of cheerleading, which happen to be college football. From there, the sport has changed and evolved into what it is today.
What is the history of All Star cheerleading?
The history of cheerleading begins with college football. The first college football game was in 1869 in New Jersey, between Yale University and Rutgers University. The game included an all-male cheerleading squad that sang a fight song and came up with creative cheers to get the crowd involved with the game. When the University of Minnesota opened cheerleading up to women in the 1930s, it was the first time athletes started tumbling and stunting, which are the main components of All Star cheerleading today.
World War II began in the 1940s, and due to the draft, many of the men going to fight were college-aged, leaving their cheerleading positions open. In every aspect of life, including sports, women filled the roles of the drafted men. This caused the rise in women in cheerleading which, in turn, promoted a growth in cheerleading, and by the 1960s, it was offered in almost every high school and every town through youth leagues.
In the 1980s, Jeff Webb founded the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA), which introduced difficult tumbling and stunting skills to the sport and elevated cheerleading. UCA has turned into Varsity Spirit Corp, the biggest, most important governing body of All Star cheer today. Varsity runs hundreds of competitions, creates thousands of uniforms and supports the community in countless ways.
The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) was also developed in the 1980s to certify coaches and teach safety when performing difficult tumbling and stunting skills, bringing the sport into a new light.
Competitive All Star cheerleading began in the 1990s and exploded rapidly from there. The International All Star Federation (IASF) was created in 2003 and established the cheerleading world championship, giving teams from all around the world a chance to compete against each other, performing a fast-paced, choreographed routine that showcases tumbling, stunting and jumping.
Top Gun All Stars is arguably the most important program in cheerleading. The gym’s website explains their influence on the cheer community perfectly, “Throughout the late 90’s and early 2000s Top Gun went through exponential growth as the program that ‘dared to be different.’ Stepping up as trendsetters and pioneers in both choreography and fashion the ‘Top Gun Style’ became heavily sought after and often imitated.” Co-Owner and founder Victor Rosario introduced the “kick-double” basket toss, which has been seen in almost every single cheerleading World’s routine to this day.
Through the influence of Top Gun and other All Star programs small and large, the sport has gained incredible momentum. Skills performed at the 2010 World Championships would never be used in competition today because the difficulty and ability of athletes grows tremendously every single year.
What is All Star?
All Star cheerleading is a unisex sport in which a team of between 16 to 36 athletes performs a 2 minute 30 second routine comprised of tumbling, stunting, pyramids and dance. The routine is performed on a 40×40 spring floor at local, state-wide, national and international competitions.
Tumbling refers to flips, such as back flips, and other advanced elements. These elements were adopted from gymnastics.
Stunting is when two to four cheerleaders lift another cheerleader, the “flyer,” into the air. Stunting is made up of released and twisting elements, where a base on the bottom will twist or release the foot of the flyer, with the goal of it looking effortless.
A pyramid is a stunt requiring multiple “stunt groups” that connect to one another to perform difficult skills. In pyramid sections, one flyer will lift another flyer up while in the air.
Flyers are usually female and the smallest members of the team, but that is not always the case. Male flyers are not common, but also not unusual. While in stunts, the other team members are bases and spotters.
Cheerleading teams practice in a gym owned by a program. For example, the closest cheerleading gym to Northborough is Bay State All Stars in Shrewsbury.
Bay State houses 13 All Star teams, including teams for children ages 3 and up, as well as a special needs team. All of these teams wear the Bay State uniform and practice in the same place, but differ by their routine and coaching.
The sport has an eleven month season, with May being the off month. Training season is from June to November; within that time there is conditioning and prep for the upcoming season, drilling new stunting and tumbling skills, and finally choreography. Practices during this period are usually two times a week and attendance is relaxed. Standard routine choreography takes up to one week of six to 12 hour sessions.
Competition season begins in December, reaches its peak in early March and concludes at the end of April. At most gyms, when this portion of the season beings, practices increase to three days per week, and are mandatory. Even sick athletes are expected to wear a mask and practice as usual (with modifications depending).
The sport is very structured, with six levels offered. Teams coordinate their routine to match the requirements of the level that athletes fit into. Coaches take two weeks in May to decide which levels will be offered at the program and where each athlete should be placed. These decisions are made based on skills at tryouts and the athletes performance in past seasons.
How is All Star different than high school cheer?
High school and All Star cheer have numerous differences, including the level of commitment and the primary goal of the team.
The goal of a high school cheer team is to support the school and provide spirit. They do this by yelling cheers and showing off skills to impress the audience and get them excited. High school teams perform modified routines, similar to the college style.
All Star cheerleading is about discipline, goal setting and overcoming obstacles as a team.
The best comparison is an escape room. In an escape room, you commit to working as a team for a long period of time to overcome clues and challenges, all with one goal in sight: escape. This is just like All Star cheerleading.
But instead of escaping, cheerleaders work incredibly hard, for months on end, to win competitions and ultimately to become the best in the world.
High school cheerleading is a commitment, but less than that of All Star’s. Some athletes even do both, because high school cheer season falls during the more relaxed part of the All Star season.
College cheer is the highest level of cheerleading there is, and it combines high school and All Star. Most athletes that go onto cheer in college were previous All Star cheerleaders.
All Star provides the skill and discipline needed for college cheer, and high school provides the school spirit and experience in yelling cheers to engage a crowd.
College cheer performs the most difficult stunting legal in cheerleading. All Star cheer at its highest level is still not as challenging as college cheerleading. All Star is the best preparation offered for the difficulty of college cheerleading.