Are too many at-large bids being given to The Cheerleading Worlds? CheerProfessional looks at both sides of the debate.
More teams than ever are making the annual pilgrimage to compete at the Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, and the packed stands this year were a testament to its soaring popularity. Yet some cheer professionals are questioning whether too many at-large bids are being given out to the event—resulting in scheduling issues, overcrowded venues and a perceived loss of prestige. We spoke with Capital Elite’s Debbie Sprague and New Jersey Spirit Explosion’s Theapia Best to learn more about their opposing perspectives.
Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.
Debbie Sprague, Owner, Capital Elite All-Stars
Debbie’s take: In my opinion, the number of at-large bids given shouldn’t be restricted. I think at-large bids reward the small gym teams and athletes who work hard to get to level 5. Most small gyms like mine aren’t trying to go to Worlds to win or even place top 10 (at least for right now). We just want our athletes to be exposed to the best of the best—it inspires them and gives them goals. I’ve heard that some people think that all the Level 5 teams out there are going, and I know they’re not.
Her program’s Worlds background: My team was Senior Restricted for most of the year, and we gave a Worlds bid one shot in March at One UP. We got an at-large bid, and it was our first time going Senior 5. At Worlds, we were very happy to hit our routine on the floor, and it was an incredible experience for these kids and myself.
[Once we got back], our teams were like rock stars, and it really helped grow the industry here in Springfield. We had our local TV station do a 30-minute segment and there was also newspaper coverage. We got a lot of athletes from outside our area—I was shocked at the number of kids that turned out for tryouts.
On the ripple effect the amount of at-large bids has on the industry: USASF has to have the income from the small gyms to hold such an amazing event. If the small gyms couldn’t get bids, then there wouldn’t be as many paid and partial paid bids for the bigger gyms. That’s the trickle-down effect.
Also, the audience for Worlds grows because of small gyms like ours. My aunts and uncles now want the ESPN airdates—these are people over 60 who would never be interested if I hadn’t taken my team to Worlds! And the list goes on and on. That helps our sport grow; you have to have a viewing audience to be successful.
On how it affects the prestige level: I think [having more bids] has made Worlds even more prestigious. The top teams we all thrive to watch are getting better and better every year, and all of the small gyms help feed the excitement for the big gyms.
I even buy Cheer Extreme, Top Gun and World Cup apparel to use as training incentives in my gym. I have given away T-shirts that they can earn for skills like standing full, double full, etc. It’s amazing how hard kids will work for them.
If Worlds was just the top three teams in the country, I wouldn’t pay to travel and attend. The whole excitement is in trying to get the bid, be on the floor and be in the atmosphere of so many great teams. If our teams weren’t going to Worlds, what would we be working for? There always has to be an angle. Gymnasts work toward the Olympics, and this is our far-reaching goal. It keeps us going.
On perceived schedule/overcrowding issues: I think that Worlds definitely needs more seating or a bigger venue. However, with a packed arena, it’s really nice for those upper-level teams who come out to a screaming crowd. It’s just awesome and makes them feel good for all the work that they do.
On possible solutions: I disagree with co-ed and all-girl teams having to compete against each other for bids, since we don’t compete against each other on the floor. If you want to get the best of the best there, limit the bids to a certain amount of both all-girl and co-ed teams.
The bottom line: Cutting at-large bids means less revenue and we all know USASF needs money. Who cares if there are lower Level 5 teams there as long as kids aren’t getting hurt? Not everyone will be as good as CEA, Top Gun and Cali. We love those teams and that’s who we look up to and learn from.
Again, we didn’t go to win or even place top 10—we went for the experience. My kids loved the chance to walk on that same floor as the best. It inspired them, it changed the way we practice, it changed the way my younger teams work at practice. It changed the way I coached and the way we look at our athletes before placing them on any team! We’ve learned so much.
Theapia’s take: As Worlds has evolved and more companies have gotten bids [to give out] in the last three to four years, I think that all level 5 teams just assume they will compete at Worlds at this point. There are so many bids that, by the end of the season, even last place teams are awarded at-large bids. I can’t even think of a Level 5 team in NJ that didn’t get to go to Worlds last year—it seemed like every team in the state got to go. The issue this creates is that it makes attending the event more of a level 5 right than a privilege.
Her program’s Worlds background: We have three Worlds teams, and we’ve attended the event at least seven or eight times. I think we only missed it the first two years, and we’ve gone on full paid bids every year. Last year was the first time we ever sent a team without a paid bid (our international team); this year, all three teams got paid bids.
On the ripple effect the amount of at-large bids has on the industry: Worlds has definitely increased the event size of all competitions that give out bids. Teams travel for World bids, not just for trophies anymore. When you plan your schedule [as a coach or gym owner], you plan it around competitions that are giving Worlds bids; before, it was determined more by what was convenient date-wise. Now when there are events that don’t give bids, many teams don’t even go because there is no opportunity to secure a bid. What’s the point? They’re saving their money to try to secure a Worlds bid.
On perceived schedule/overcrowding issues: The biggest issue this creates is overcrowding at the event. So many of the parents stress out about getting up early to go get in line. I think [USASF] thought that decreasing the number of teams that make it to finals would also decrease seating/capacity issues, but it actually made it worse. All of the kids at Worlds love cheerleading, so if they’re not competing, they’re getting up and going to watch—whereas if they were able to compete, they wouldn’t be able to do that.
On whether Worlds still holds the same prestige: The first few years of the Cheerleading Worlds, the bids were so exclusive that only the best of the best were invited. Now that things are different, I can actually see it both ways. There are some smaller gyms that are not going to Worlds to win, and I can see them getting more customers who are interested in being on Worlds teams. If it became so exclusive that everyone wouldn’t have an opportunity to go, then those gyms wouldn’t exist and our sport wouldn’t be growing.
On the other hand, I do feel it could be a bit more exclusive, so that teams that are Senior Restricted or Senior Level 4 but going Level 5 for just one competition aren’t getting bids.
On possible solutions: I can’t come up with a solution without knowing the true intent of the Worlds competition. Ultimately, it needs to be decided: what is the goal of Worlds? Is it the right of every Level 5 team to be represented?
If so, it needs to not be so difficult to make finals. Teams spend so much money to go, and they only take 10 teams to finals when there are twice that amount of great teams. The divisions go on for so long—do the judges get it right the first day? The division starts at 10 am and goes until 4 pm, and they’re only taking 10 teams to finals. What are the chances those teams are ranked correctly for a division that’s been going on for six hours?
Some [cheer professionals] have proposed the idea of regionalizing the bids, but the regions all have different divisions, so it would be hard to do that. Also, some regions have great teams, and some regions have very weak teams. You wouldn’t get a good representation of what the true best programs are, which is what Worlds is supposed to be.
The bottom line: Is the intent for all Level 5 teams to be represented? If so, then they need increase the number of teams by percentage that make finals. If the intent is to make the teams feel like being invited is a privilege, then they need to decrease the number of at large-bids given so earning a bid becomes a big deal in itself.