BOISE – If you haven’t been to a sanctioned high school sporting event in the past year, you may be surprised to see a typically female-dominated sport filled with males, cheering just as loud and performing with the same intensity.
“We are seeing an increase in male cheerleaders in the Treasure Valley,” said Sarah Tueller, Capital High School’s varsity cheerleading coach. “Last year was the first year we had a male cheerleader. This year, we have a different boy on the team.”
Several schools around the Treasure Valley, including Columbia, Centennial and Nampa, all have boys on their squads this year.
Why the increase?
Torri Kerkman, the assistant cheerleading coach at Timberline, who has four boys on her varsity team, believes television shows and movies which showcase the sport are helping tremendously.
“I would definitely say pop culture has done a great job with pushing guy cheerleaders out there,” Kerkman said.
“With the Idaho schools becoming more competitive [in cheerleading], it really helps having a male on the squad because they bring a different kind of strength and power that the girls don’t have,” Tueller said.
Timberline cheer co-captain, senior Millie Osler, agrees.
“Having boys on the team makes us stronger,” Osler said. “Having them as bases and backs, we can do more extreme stunts because they have more muscle power.”
Those who have cheered competitively know the strength and power it takes to perform in front of a crowd.
“It’s very athletic, very demanding, very challenging and definitely something guys are starting to figure out is hard work,” Kerkman said.
College scholarships are also a driving force behind the numbers.
“A lot of schools now, especially competitive colleges, are looking for male cheerleaders and offering some really great scholarships,” Kerkman said. “So that’s a big draw to a lot of these students.”
Even so, the sport is still struggling to gain recognition as a ‘real sport.’
Senior Brooke Olsen, Timberline co-captain, has heard the same spiel from other athletes about why cheerleading isn’t a sport.
“They’re like ‘oh you guys just throw girls up in the air, you don’t do any work, it’s not hard to throw a girl in the air,’ but there is so much technique and skill that goes into being able to do it that,” Olsen said.
Coming into the sport, every boy who was interviewed had the same mindset.
Collin Fisher, a senior member of Capital’s varsity team, thought being a member of the team essentially meant he was a ‘super fan.’
“I was expecting to do some cheers and throw a few girls around,” Collin said. “I was surprised. It’s been a lot more physically demanding, I thought it would be no big deal. It takes a lot more coordination and finesse than I thought.”
That coordination and finesse may come naturally to some, but for others, it has taken years to perfect.
Timberline’s head coach, Cari Kerkman, who works at Les Bois junior high, has encouraged several of the boys on the squad to join Timberline’s squad after seeing potential.
Elijah Fisher, a first year sophomore, joined the squad because of his connection at Les Bois with Kerkman.
“She knew I was a competitive dancer for eight years,” Fisher said. “She really wanted me to do it.”
The same can be said for sophomore Michael Burns, who also knew Kerkman from Les Bois.
“I’ve always liked performing,” Burns said. “[Kerkman] came up and talked to me and said ‘I feel like you would be really good at it and I would like you to do it,’ so I said ‘why not?’ and now it’s my second year on varsity.”
One of the most obvious concerns many of the boys had beforehand was the stigma attached to cheerleading.
“The hardest part was getting used to worrying about what people might say,” Fisher said. “But it kind of got me thinking, like, who cares? I don’t think people should hold you back from what you want to do.”
Sophomore Josh De Los Santos, who is also a part of Timberline’s wrestling team, said it’s about feeling confident with yourself. “Cheerleading teaches you how to be yourself and to try not to care what these other people think, to just be you.”
“It is viewed as a feminine sport, and that’s not the case. I’m lifting people every day,” Burns said. “I’m catching people with my bare hands, whereas some sports, you get to wear padding. [Cheerleading] is a full-contact sport.”
Timberline, like many other schools in the Treasure Valley, practices every day after school for two hours.
“It’s a lot more of a workout than they really think,” said Timberline sophomore Ethan Davis. “Guys think that they can just hop in and do it, but it’s really not. It’s a lot of hard work.”
“It’s not just a girl’s sport where we stand in front of a crowd and smile and wave,” Fisher said. “We actually do work and lift people.”
When asked if athletes from other sports could last one day as a cheerleader, not one person believed they could.
“I don’t think they would,” De Los Santos said. “In wrestling you have to have the physical strength, you have the have the endurance to take down your competitor. In cheerleading, you have to have inner strength, going out, cheering with a bunch of people watching you, especially high school kids who can be pretty judgmental.”
Davis added, “They would probably die.”
Not only do these athletes compete and cheer for other teams, but they are also held to a higher standard, as a representative of the school.
“Being a cheerleader means being a leader of your school – volunteering, helping out your community, making sure that you are the positive influence that your name means,” Kerkman said. “These cheerleaders, the male ones especially, it’s taxing on them every day, to put themselves out there every day to be in a sport that is still working its way to be officially coed in a lot of areas, especially Idaho.”
“Our cheerleaders are incredible and have amazing character,” Kerkman said.