Cheerleading is now an Olympic sport.
So, it is only right that the University Interscholastic League (UIL) now provides a competition for sideline cheerleading – a staple of Texas Friday Night Lights culture.
The new UIL State Spirit Championship, a sideline cheer competition, has only existed for three years and rules and expectations are still being established.
Sara Stewart, based at Lone Star High School, is lead instructor for all Frisco ISD cheer programs. She explained that sideline cheer is very different from competitive cheer squads. Competitive cheer is similar to any select sports team and parents pay for their children to participate and the competition style and rules are very different from traditional high school cheerleading.
“Sideline cheerleading competes in three areas,” Stewart explained. “The categories are fight song, band dance and crowd-leading cheers. There is a minimum of stunts and very little tumbling.”
The competition is based on what all cheerleaders do on the sidelines of football, volleyball and basketball games throughout the school year. During competition, the squads may use signs, pom-poms and flags. School mascots can also take part in the competition with the squads.
“But there are no crazy stunts allowed,” Stewart said. “The teams focus on staying within competition rules and giving a clean, sharp performance.”
Cheerleading in Frisco ISD is a time-consuming extracurricular activity. The cheerleaders are busy almost all school year – from tryouts in March, summer camp, summer practice, practicing and performing at numerous sport and school events throughout the year.
FISD cheerleaders are selected by outside impartial judges. Being elected cheerleader is no longer about popularity. It is all about the performance the judges see on tryout day.
“Sometimes that means if someone has a bad day they don’t get picked,” Stewart said, adding that it is sad when a strong candidate with great school spirit isn’t chosen, but outside judges ensures that the selection is totally unbiased.
The new element of having a statewide competition has brought legitimacy to cheerleading as an athletic activity. Cheerleading has evolved over the years and expectations of schools for the talent and attitude of cheerleaders has changed. A high degree of athletic ability is needed to cheer and the time that squads spend honing their talent and serving their school requires a mature, dedicated athlete who can balance schoolwork with cheer.
The Spirit Championship competition is open to all squads in the state, but the top 20 make finals.
Stewart admits that the judging, even with clear rules in place, is very perception based. From year to year, a cheer coach can’t really know what music or dance style a judge may prefer. The first year Lone Star took a squad to compete, they used a classic, old-school piece of music and the judges seemed to want something more modern. The next year the Lone Star squad used a very contemporary piece of music and then the judges wanted something more “classic.”
“We just do the best job we can do,” Stewart said, speaking for all Frisco ISD cheer squads.
Not all Frisco ISD schools chose to compete this year. The ones who did were competing in 5A Division I or Division II. Lone Star High School competed as a DII school based on last year’s enrollment figures. Reedy, Independence, Centennial, Frisco and Heritage high schools competed as DI.
Reedy took the highest awards, they are ranked 10th in the state in the 5A Division 1. Also they received 3rd place in Best Fight Song – only a point separating them from 1st place. More than 60 teams competed across the state.
Lone Star ranked 22nd among the Division II schools. Division I FISD schools rankings were: Independence-20, Centennial-31, Frisco-42 and Heritage High School-43.