Nfld. & Labrador

All guts, no pom-poms: competitive cheerleading takes off

Imagine a sport where the athletes are fit enough to do a standing back flip, and strong enough to lift a teammate over their heads. That sport is competitive cheerleading. And a team from Paradise just cheered their way to the world championships.

A new team based in Paradise is flying high after trip to world championships

The Rays trust their lives to their teammates, when they perform competitive cheerleading stunts like this. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Imagine a sport where the athletes are fit enough to do a standing back flip, and strong enough to lift a teammate over their heads.

That sport is competitive cheerleading.

"Normally, cheerleaders are on the sidelines. But we're each other's cheerleaders here," said cheerleader Miranda Cooper.

"We push each other so hard each practice to be the best we can be for each other, to make this team as good as it was."

Rays teammates Ashley O'Keefe, Nick Walsh and Miranda Cooper. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

The team is called The Rays, one of just a few competitive cheerleading teams in the province.

Their home is Coastal Wave Elite, a gym in Paradise that opened last fall, tucked in the back of a trucking company warehouse.

You're trusting each other with your lives, with stunting and tumbling.- Miranda Cooper

It's like our house now. It's where we live." said cheerleader Nick Walsh. "It started out as nothing but we turned into a family."

To see some of The Rays elite cheerleading moves, watch the video below.

The Rays from Coastal Wave Elite gym in Paradise just competed at the Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, Florida. They're already looking for tryouts for next season, but you can leave the pom-poms at home. 1:23

Cheering at the worlds

In April, after just six months of practice, The Rays competed at Cheer Expo in Halifax. That performance earned them a ticket to the Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, Florida.

The Rays placed 21st in their division, but learned a lot from watching the elite American teams. Cheerleader Ashley O'Keefe is still buzzing from the experience.

"Going to Worlds wasn't even on my radar, as a cheerleader," O'Keefe said.

"As much as I love cheerleading and as much as I was dedicated to it, I never thought in a million years I would get the opportunity. Some people say they're crossing it off their bucket list. It was never even close to mine, because I didn't think I would ever get there."

No pompons needed

After months of intense practice, the coaches and team members are a tight-knight group. It's a must, when you're throwing teammates through the air.

"You're trusting each other with your lives, with stunting and tumbling" says Cooper. "So we became a really close family."

Aerial stunts in competitive cheerleading can see athletes soar several meters in the air, while their teammates rush in to catch them. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

And some of the cheer family are guys. Nick Walsh says the hardest was part of becoming a male cheerleader is walking through the door.

"I got involved 10 years ago when I was fresh in high school." Walsh said.

"It was a really hard decision to make back then, but it was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. It's hard to come in, but once you're there, you'll make some of the best friends you can ever have."

As their inaugural season winds down, the Rays are already looking ahead to next year. Coach Katie Antle says they're also looking to change how people here think about cheerleading.

"The first thing anybody says to me — when they say, Oh you cheerlead. Who do you cheer for?" Antle said. "I have to explain the whole thing. Cheerleading is it's own sport now. It's totally different from sideline pom-pom cheerleading."

They said anyone could do it! Reporter Zach Goudie gets lifted by The Rays. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

About the Author

Zach Goudie is a journalist and video producer with CBC in St. John's, NL.