Striking a Balance

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Striking a Balance

Rahul Iyer

Crowds of cheerleaders trickle into the auditorium where they will perform their routines before a panel of judges. The teams are immersed in anxious discussions, roaring laughter and boisterous small talk. In one corner of the room, however, the MVHS cheer team remains quiet. A few of the girls have textbooks in hand, diligently flipping through the pages as the team patiently awaits its turn to compete, as junior Emily Leung recalls of the 2015 National Cheerleading Competition.

There is a pervasive stereotype that cheer members are less intelligent than their peers.

The MVHS cheer team, however, tries to dispel that.

Cheerleaders balance on their stools during the Homecoming football game on Oct.  17.

Cheerleaders balance on their stools during the Homecoming football game on Oct. 17.

Due to the demanding schedule, cheer members must manage their time and often seek homework help from older teammates.

Due to the demanding schedule, cheer members must manage their time and often seek homework help from older teammates.

“Cheerleaders are portrayed as dumb and ditzy in the media. Some people don’t even consider cheerleading a sport,” spirit coach Brittany Carey said. “But did you know that it takes just as many hours and skills as a sports athlete to be a cheerleader?”

According to Carey, not only does the team practice four to six hours per week preparing for its cheer routines during football and basketball seasons, but it is also putting in extra efforts to refine its gymnastics, dance and core body stunting skills.

Leung has long noticed the discrepancies between the behaviors of MVHS cheerleaders and those from other schools.

“At competitions, we always bring our textbooks to study. It’s just [MVHS] that does that,” Leung said. “Other girls would be dancing and talking really loudly, but for us, while we’re waiting, we study and read.”

For sophomore Smita Iyer, adhering to the expectations helps her reinforce the positive aspects of cheer and dispel the negative stereotypes.

“By keeping up with these high standards, sometimes people will see us differently and not as the stereotypes,” Iyer said. “We work really hard, and we try really hard.”

In order to incentivize good academic performance, Carey created a system to award scholastically successful cheer members for their accomplishments. According to Leung, Carey commonly rewards people who can maintain a 4.0 GPA with prizes such as Jamba Juice or Victoria’s Secret gift cards.

In addition to the award system, Carey has pushed members of the cheer team to succeed academically in other ways. By supporting team members and creating a positive environment, she has continuously emphasized academics as a key part of cheer team.

Every athlete signs the FUHSD contract before the season, which mandates that athletes maintain a minimum GPA in order to compete. According to Leung, however, her coach expects more from the team than maintaining good grades. Carey usually marks each grading period on the Cheer calendars, so the students can ensure that they are staying on track and remaining organized with their schedules.

“The other team members help you and encourage you to do better because you see them doing really well and you want to be as good as them,” Iyer said.

As a result of the emphasis on academics on the cheer team, several members have helped one another in their classes, through encouragement and tutoring. This has fostered a positive environment in which girls lean on each other for support.

“There are a lot of girls that get 4.0s and do really well in school, and they’ll actually help us,” Leung said.

Leung found herself in that situation as a freshmen in Biology. When she struggled to grasp the more difficult concepts and comprehend the technical terminologies, Leung turned to her older teammates for help. Carey emphasizes academic performance for team leaders, who the rest of the team looks up to.

“In order to be a captain, [Carey] does look at your grades,” Leung said. “She counts them for everything. For example, if you want to be a leader, you need the grades, so you can be a role model.”

Cheer captains seniors Kelsey Hsing and Mane Mikayelan talk to coach Brittany Carey before tryouts on April 1. When deciding leadership positions, Carey heavily emphasizes academic performance.

Cheer captains seniors Kelsey Hsing and Mane Mikayelan talk to coach Brittany Carey before tryouts on April 1. When deciding leadership positions, Carey heavily emphasizes academic performance.

Carey believes that her strict requirements for her cheer students enforces team etiquette and helps dispel the stigmas that continue to prevail in modern culture. In a sense, these more rigorous standards force team members to make hard decisions on responsibilities to the team versus other commitments.

“All of the skills learned and practiced take teamwork and timing,” Carey said. “Spirit members are role models that are constantly leading the crowd, encouraging people to cheer on our team.”