Two Sides: STUNT

Will the growing popularity of STUNT have detrimental effects on all-star? CheerProfessional looks at both sides of the debate.

Has the quest to make cheerleading a sport finally hit its stride? With the formation of College STUNT Association and STUNT, USA Cheer’s answer is an emphatic “yes.” Designed to meet Title IX requirements, the sport of STUNT follows a four-quarter format focused strictly on athletic and technical skills including partner STUNTs, pyramids, basket tosses, group jumps and tumbling. All teams must perform the same choreography and technical sequences, and there is no crowd-leading element—differentiating STUNT from both school-based and all-star cheer.

Currently, USA Cheer is taking steps to secure STUNT as an NCAA emerging sport, but not everyone in the cheer industry believes that STUNT is a step forward. We spoke with Randy Dickey of ACX Cheer and Kim Gaskin, high school cheer coach and president of New Jersey State Coaches Association, to find out their perspectives.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the views expressed in this article are expressly those of our sources and not those of CheerProfessional.

Randy Dickey
Owner, ACX Cheer

Randy’s take on STUNT: I’m not a big fan. If this becomes an Olympic sport and/or NCAA starts riding the train, there will then be scholarship opportunities, as well as possible Olympic hopefuls—all of which outshines the benefits of all-star cheerleading. If STUNT is suddenly the way to get scholarships and cheerleading as we know it goes away at the college level, what’s the next step after a kid graduates high school? High school cheerleading will follow what the NCAA does. The minute that STUNT gets mainstream NCAA [status], high schools will segue over to [that format]. I really believe as soon as that happens, it will open the door for gym owners to take a backseat.

On dual participation: As a gym owner, I personally think that STUNT definitely could pull kids from all-star. Depending on when the STUNT season takes place and how it interlaces itself with the existing cheer season, it could greatly affect dual participation. If a child cheers on their school team, that’s an 11-month commitment in many cases. Many schools already have a stigma about letting kids do all-stars in the same season; this opens the door for more coaches who don’t understand the value of all-star cheer.

On its impact on all-star: I know a lot of choreographers are very concerned about the whole STUNT idea because it could become compulsory over time, and if the competitive aspect of the 2:30 routine goes away, then there is no longer a need for choreographers. I know there is also concern on the music mixer side because they could also give out compulsory music, which would negate the need for original music. I know there are people on different sides that are nervous about it. Whether or not those are legitimate concerns or just people being worried, I’m not sure, but I do know that there are people who are scared of those types of things going on.

About STUNT’s relationship to the Olympics: I believe that there is a push from somewhere trying to get cheerleading in the Olympics, and I believe that it’s a race to see who will the biggest and baddest. Gymnastics and cheer have been going head-to-head for many, many years. If cheer were to become an Olympic sport, there are powers that be [in the cheer industry] that want it to be in their control and not gymnastics’ control.

However, gymnastics has more clout than cheerleading, and they are only going to allow cheer in the Olympics if it doesn’t compete with its sports. Therefore [the Olympic version of cheer] has to look completely different than gymnastics—hence the motivation for STUNT.

To me, the tumbling [in all-star cheer] is already very diminished. There is a huge drive even in international competitions to dumb down the values for tumbling. There has been talk of eliminating the tumbling skills for safety reasons, but sometimes you wonder if it is to help fall in line with the demands of what would create a conflict for gymnastics.

99.9% of our income is off tumbling classes, and when you make rules that dumb down tumbling, you’re affecting my income. When you do that to high school, it’s not affecting their income. Your rules can greatly affect someone’s paycheck. I always look at things from a business aspect and make sure the future is bright enough to keep the lights on.

The bottom line: I don’t believe that the all-star/competitive cheer [industry] for high schools has finished evolving yet. I’m a big fan of it and I don’t want to see anything take away from that. All-star cheer is my life, it’s kept me in business for [xx] years and I don’t think it needs something to take away from it.

Just like gymnastics would be nervous about cheer overpowering it in the Olympics or taking away participation in the lower levels, I believe STUNT could take away from all-stars. We already have to share our kids with football, basketball, school cheerleading—now there is one more thing to pull them in a different direction.

I love all-star cheerleading the way it is, so these are my concerns. Anything that could change that in any way, shape or form would make any business owner nervous about the unknown.  However, I do support all types of cheer, and I will support STUNT—I’m just not excited about having sport to compete with the all-star world.

Kim Gaskin, President of New Jersey State Coaches Association and Head Coach for Burlington Township High School

Kim’s take on STUNT: The value of STUNT as it continues to grow will show that there are requirements that every great cheer team should know how to master. Those requirements are then benchmarked and put in a routine where each team has to do the same skills. In a normal [all-star] competition, every team has an opportunity to be as creative as they wish. [In contrast], STUNT allows teams to be matched up on the same skill; it does have a little creativity, but not as much complexity as a choreographed routine. It goes to the baseline of what makes great athleticism in cheerleading. I think judging our athletes on their tumbling skills, basket tosses, pyramids and partner stunts really is kind of fun for participants because they are measured on the same routine. STUNT is new, it’s evolving and it will find its place.

On dual participation: All coaches have an opportunity to determine whether they want to participate and make it part of their curriculum, as they would with any competition they choose to attend. I don’t see lines of division yet as opposed to an appreciation for the value of what STUNT can do both on college and high school level. Some of the elements of STUNT are basic skills that will get you to the more elite skills that will put you in national competition. The same cheerleaders who are on your cheer team can participate in a STUNT event. Coaches have to look at their program and decide what’s best as far as how STUNT fits into their overall competition [plan].

About STUNT’s impact on all-star: When you look at high school, all-star and college cheer, not only do you see the element of competition, but also a lot of creativity as well. STUNT was developed for a different purpose than to hurt any of those functions. Title IX is a positive way of recognizing athletes, and we need to find ways that we can align ourselves with any regulations that can benefit our athletes. This kind of venture doesn’t really take away [from other types of cheerleading], but continues to create value. Anyone who is a coach or cheerleader knows that our athletes are hard-working, dedicated and great leaders in the schools they represent; being able to allow them to get some of the financial benefits or recognition [that other sports enjoy] would be amazing progress.

About STUNT’s relationship to the Olympics: Right now, Worlds is really the hub of cheerleading around the world. The beautiful part of Worlds is that you see teams not only show great athleticism, but also bring a part of their country to the mat. Whether the team is from Mexico or Thailand or Jamaica, you see the diversity of the athlete. Because STUNT is so new, it could evolve to [that level], but you’re still talking about two different buckets—due to the technical aspects of what makes a great Worlds champion versus what makes a great STUNT champion. As cheer evolves, we have to be open to allowing these organizations and companies to get it right. Sometimes things aren’t perfect, but at the end of the day, the athletes are the ones who benefit. These are big platforms that allow cheerleaders to go out there and prove to the world that we are taking cheerleading to a whole new level.

The bottom line: I am an advocate of great cheerleading. Whether it’s high school, all-star or college, our job as an industry is to represent cheer in a way that’s positive and helpful for every athlete. The choice of which way an athlete decides to endure cheerleading is up to that person. There are so many kids out there—just look at the feeder and rec programs around the country trying to get kids interested in cheer and get them on that journey. For those that stick to it, we all need to encourage the kids filtering into our sport, rather than debating who is taking athletes away from whom. I’m not really one to take sides, but I’m all for anything we do as an industry that elevates our kids from both athletic and Title IX requirements, and I think everyone should think of it that way.