For those who don’t believe cheerleading qualifies as a sport, Kathleen Cooke will vouch otherwise. Mark her words. She’s got cred to back them — just point to the a national title she helped Westlake (Austin, Texas) claim in February.
The win didn’t come easy. In fact, behind the scenes was anything but. For seven months, the team practiced for two hours a day, five days a week to prepare for the National High School Cheerleading Championship held in Orlando. Westlake beat out 23 other teams in Super Varsity Division I.
“A lot of people don’t understand how difficult it is. There’s a lot that goes in to it,” Cooke said. “It takes a lot of strength. Even though it (the routine) is three minutes, it involves back-to-back flips and stunts, and it’s a lot harder that people think.”
Unfazed by the commitment and fearlessness essential to succeed, Cooke said she finds satisfaction in the sport’s “entertaining and unique” nature. As part of USA TODAY High School Sports’ Ultimate Athlete profile series, she told us all about it and explains what makes her sportworthy.
For eight months, we’re spotlightingcases deemed Ultimate Athlete-worthy as part of an ongoing, interactive discussion about what sport supersedes the rest. Check in for athlete profiles, smack talk, training videos and more, culminating with the crowning of the Ultimate Athlete.
What qualifies cheerleading as a sport?
Cooke: To me, a sport is defined as doing physical activity with a team against another team, which is exactly what we do. When people see us cheering on the sidelines, we are only doing the easiest skills. During practice and competition we do many stunts and flips.
What’s challenging about the sport?
Cooke: Lots of people have fears of being upside down or of heights. You have to put lots of trust into your teammates and coaches. Also, you always have to stay positive even when you’re super frustrated. It’s very challenging to learn new skills and perfect them and to push through pain. From all of the lifting and flipping, our joints really start to ache.
What’s your favorite cheer move?
Cooke: A standing back tuck. It’s a huge crowd pleaser.
What was the most challenging stunt or trick you’ve had to learn?
Cooke: This year we learned how to do an opposite full up to stretch, where the flyer does a full spin up to the top and lands in a heel stretch. It was difficult mainly because the flyers aren’t used to standing on their left leg and the base [person] who was doing the majority of the work, wasn’t used to it either.
Tell us what you love most about cheerleading?
Cooke: All sports are difficult in their own way, but cheerleading takes a lot of special skills. You need to be flexible, fearless and always positive.