A pro cheerlebrity is hard to miss. She’s usually female, a flyer, slicing through the air during a basket toss—makeup bright, smile broad. Perhaps she’s signing autographs before competition or wowing judges on the floor with a superior tumbling pass. Maybe she has an agent in hopes of getting recruited by a college and scoring a scholarship. She might have even signed an exclusive contract with a magazine or landed a deal to sell a specific brand of shoes. Or perhaps you’ll spot her sitting behind the judges’ table at Varsity’s new wave of “Cheerlebrity” competitions.
Click. Flash. Pose with beaming young fans. Sign a program. Smile. Wave. Repeat.
This level of pomp and circumstance isn’t unlike the kind associated with A-list stars with Oscars under their belt, but these cheerlebrities are teenagers who have harnessed social media and caught the public eye, turning their specific set of skills into a brand and launching themselves to superstardom within cheerleading circles.
As “ambassadors” of the sport, some cheerlebrities are tapped to train with and meet-and-greet other cheerleaders in hopes that some of their star quality will rub off on them. Having cheerlebrities teach tumbling/stunting/stretching clinics for young all-star cheerleaders is especially popular. Naturally, the stars sign autographs and mug for pictures afterward. It’s all part of the new normal—the growing culture of cheerlebrity.
Pros and Cons
Is this emphasis on the individual rather than the team as a whole a good thing for the sport? It depends on whom you talk to.
“I look at [the growth of cheerlebrities] as a tremendous compliment to our sport,” says Courtney Smith-Pope of Cheer Extreme Allstars, who coached cheerlebrity Maddie Gardner. “Basketball has Michael Jordan. Swimming has Michael Phelps. Gymnastics has Gabby Douglas. This is the natural evolution of our sport—there are going to be superstars.”
However, cheerleading is inherently a team sport—after all, elaborate stunts and formations don’t really work if only one person is performing them—so having the spotlight rest on a select few individuals can make for potentially awkward situations.
World Cup All-Stars CEO Elaine Pascale, who coaches cheerlebrity Kelsey Rule, says she’s concerned not only that there is no formal “selection” process for creating a cheerlebrity (potentially excluding more deserving cheerleaders), but also that the pressure to perform could negatively affect a cheerlebrity’s mental game.
“I just worry that if this is the trend, then we’re looking at these athletes more on a professional level than an amateur level, where we’re putting a lot of pressure on them,” says Pascale. “We’re making them have to live up to a title that at 15, 16 or 17 years old, I’m not sure that they’re developed enough to not have it filter over to the competition floor.”
Pascale is quick to clarify, however, that she’s not against recognizing outstanding individuals—she just wishes awards were doled out fairly.
“In any sport we have trophy winners, but I think there’s a forum to congratulate these specific athletes,” she says. “At World Cup, we gather up parents and award a trophy to the best athlete of that particular performance. Those kids go home with that trophy and feel good about themselves, so they’re still connected to that sense of team.”
But is heaping praise and adulation on a supremely talented individual simply the way things go, whether you’re giving a presentation in a boardroom or tumbling on a gym floor? Danica and Jay Noah of 2×2 Productions, which creates personalized DVDs for cheerleaders, picked noted cheerlebrities Maddie Gardner and Maison Baker to introduce their videos, citing the pair’s inner and outer “grace.” But the Noahs do acknowledge a negative response to the cheerlebrity trend.
“There already seems to be a backlash towards this,” they said in an email. “We do think there will always be hose individuals that stand out in a crowd. It’s just human nature. You could pick any classroom, and you will have certain kids that are leaders, planners, fun ones, pretty or handsome athletes, etc. I think that is how it works here—there will always be those that others will want to emulate, whether for an amazing skill or just the way they look and talk.”