Amanda Dauzat wasn’t always a cheerleader who prayed. The founder of Denver, CO-based Youth Alive Cheer didn’t discover a spiritual connection with cheerleading until she attended a small Christian college. There, through the guidance of her cheer coach, she developed a relationship with the divine. Now Dauzat offers other youth the opportunity to combine athleticism with faith. “The way I view faith-based programs is like any other,” said Dauzat. “We are a cheer program that wants to teach [our students] life lessons. We choose the Bible to be our guide.”
Youth Alive Cheer is one of many programs where cheer and faith collide. In the last year, nearly 100 faith-based teams (comprised of 1,500 athletes total) came together to compete at the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders (FCC) national competition in Orlando, marking a significant increase from the 12 teams and 150 cheerleaders that participated in the event when it began in 1989.
Like all cheer organizations, size and structure varies. Youth Alive Cheer is a dual for-profit/non-profit organization that currently serves 45 students ranging from three to 14 years of age. At Carolina Elite (near Greensboro, NC), Rocky Harmon leads a for-profit organization that is nearly triple that size with 120 students from ages 4 to 18. And Texas-based Be of Good Cheer is a strictly not-for-profit organization whose fees are paid entirely by the fundraising efforts of the team. “I’ve even had the kids earn all their money early, and I tell them, ‘You don’t need to go fundraising anymore, and they still go and [then] donate their [additional] money to the kids who can’t go [out and fundraise] and need it,” says owner Stacy Brumley.
All three programs keep fee structures at the bare minimum to ensure that classes remain open and affordable to all. “I like to joke that we’re a ‘not for much profit program,’” said Harmon.
Finances aside, Harmon, Dauzat and Brumley don’t see their incorporation of faith into cheer practice as a intentional deviation from secular organizations but rather the natural inclusion of a powerful, spiritual connection that fuels their daily lives. “There was never a moment when I made a conscious decision to include my faith in our cheer program,” said Harmon. “Faith is a part of everything in one’s life, so when you start something that faith is already there.”
Still, there are notable differences. “Fun dance moves” are favored over “provocative” ones. Uniforms mimic popular style but lengths are often more conservative and midriffs rarely bared. Like other cheer programs, positive mentorship is a high priority, but for the faith-based programs, this also includes mentorship of the spirit in the form of frequent group prayer and encouragement to seek guidance from above. “[The kids] will come to you with their problems and it’s just natural for any adult to give a faith-based answer,” said Brumley.
According to Dauzat, highlighting a Christian approach to problem solving will enable students to be successful decision makers in the future. “My hope is that through Youth Alive they have been given enough information so that when they are mature they are able to form their own belief and value system,” said Dauzat. “I believe this is just one more tool to add to their tool bag that will help them maneuver through life.”
Recently Harmon received an email from such a student who credits Carolina Elite with saving the “better parts” of her. “I found comfort in coming to CEA and learned respect, responsibility and leadership, and that no matter where we come from, something great can always come from us if we are pushed,” the student testified.
Winning and losing are also given a broader context. At Carolina Elite, competition jitters are calmed with a prayer of surrender. “In pre-performance prayers, I always ask that the girls stay safe, perform their best, and we’ll leave the results up to [God].” At Be of Good Cheer, competition results are received with a bigger picture in mind. “You have to teach them that no matter what happens God has a lesson in it for us, win or lose,” said Brumley.
All agree that while their Christian faith is ever present, everyone is welcome to join. “We strive to make it clear that faith is important in our program; we just don’t try to force it on anyone,” said Harmon, adding, “The goal isn’t to point out that we include our faith every day, it’s simply to include it.”