Upper Perk working to be a part of the first Competetive Spirit Competition in Hershey
Cheerleaders practice the skills they will use as they prepare to enter the new "competitive spirit" PIAA-sponsored championships which will be held on February 2 at Hersheypark Arena.
After years of debate, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), the body that governs high school sports, decided that competitive cheering will have its own state championship this school year.
Officially called “competitive spirit” by the PIAA, there is no defined season. The first state championships will be held on February 2 at Hersheypark Arena in Hershey. Teams will be picked from videos sent in by schools. Judging will be done under the auspices of the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA), a nationally recognized organization. Twelve schools are guaranteed slots from District 1.
Squads will be classified as small varsity (no more than 15 athletes), medium varsity (20) and large varsity.
“I am thrilled that PIAA is now sanctioning cheerleading as a sport,” said first year Upper Perk coach Kristen Funk, who coached for 15 years at Quakertown and was a student cheerleader for the Panthers.
Funk makes it clear that what the girls do on a Friday night at football games is not the sport aspect of cheering.
“The competitive nature of it comes into play with the two-and-half-minute routines. It is a combination of a cheer that usually involves signs, crowd leading skills, a high level of gymnastics that gets incorporated into the routine, dance is another huge portion of the routine, as well as the stunting which you see on the sidelines.”
While coaching her Quakertown teams in Suburban I, coach Funk saw what true competitive spirit is like year after year. The league has held its own competition for over 20 years.
“The level in that division alone is why it’s seen as a competitive sport. I don’t believe PAC-10 is there yet.”
Funk praises “the heart and drive” of her current cheerleaders, and the spirit of the cheerleading program.
“Upper Perk has an incredible foundation of school tradition. What I learned about [Upper Perk cheerleaders] is that they are really great supporters of athletics. The program had been designed with a lot of tradition that carries on year after year.”
At the same time, Funk realizes that being truly competitive is going to take time.
“As cheerleading continues to grow, girls have to become stronger, they have to have endurance, they need to be athletic in nature and they need to be physically fit in order to do the competitive portion of cheerleading. It’s like trying to run a mile in less than five minutes, the amount of endurance that they need to do it.”
Funk is committed to the long term growth of the program with her own team members and with the community cheerleaders.
“I am in the process of trying to help change it for the younger kids. The community program emphasizes the girls standing on the sidelines.”
To that end, coach Funk is held a youth clinic last Saturday in the high school gym.
“My program is a work in progress absolutely. Are they going to get there in five years? Absolutely.”
Beyond creating formal competition, the PIAA’s recognition of competitive spirit should make the sport safer since physicals and concussion tests will be required.
It also provides a boost in female self-esteem.
“Overall, it’s an amazing opportunity for a young girl to get a little bit more of their own recognition, something to grow and strive for, for themselves. It gives them a sense of ownership, a sense of pride in what they’re doing, and they get rewarded for that, and I think that it gives these girls a little more self-worth,” Funk noted.