A roundtable discussion with five outstanding athletes from some of the nation’s top programs.
by Danielle Calodney
We gathered together top athletes from powerhouse programs to discuss everything from Worlds to uniform trends to what they believe makes up the ultimate all-star cheerleader. Check out what these passionate athletes had to say about their first love—cheerleading.
Brooke Sparacio, 17 Shayla Moore, 15 Kendall Weavil, 17
World Cup Shooting Stars Georgia Allstars Louie’s Cheer Extreme Senior Elite
Jonathan Rhodes, 17 Ambrel Mitchell, 23
Twist & Shout Sr. Obsession Cheer Athletics Wildcats
AC: What makes competing at Worlds so special?
Ambrel Mitchell, Cheer Athletics Wildcats: Seeing the passion that athletes from other countries have about just being at the competition in the first place. We take for granted that we get to compete against some of the best in the world all year and are disappointed when we don’t win or place as well as we’d like, but [international competitors] are just excited to have the opportunity to compete on that floor against everyone.
Shayla Moore, Georgia Allstars Louie’s: It’s brought a lot of positive attention to the cheer industry. It’s like our Olympics.
Jonathan Rhodes, Twist & Shout Senior Obsession: You meet people from all over the world and the best part is that you’re all there to show what you can do on that mat two days in a row.
Brooke Sparacio, World Cup Shooting Stars: Of course, performing in that venue is thrilling, but meeting people from all over the world who love what I love is amazing. But going back each year and defending a Worlds gold—and sometimes not being successful—is hard and stressful. But I don’t regret a minute of it.
AC: What were some of the most memorable moments from this year’s Worlds?
Shayla: Thailand was amazing!
Brooke: In our division, Maryland Marlins were amazing for performing a perfect routine four times in two days. One day the lights went out, another day a girl was injured. Still, this team went on. That, to me, was courageous and truly belonged at Worlds.
Jonathan: The best part was walking onto the stage and knowing that if we gave it our all just one more time, we’d be World Champions. For those of you who’ve won before, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the best feeling in the world.
Ambrel: The International Coed 5 Division was amazing. There were so many incredible teams that it was tough to make it through each round.
AC: What is good sportsmanship in action?
Ambrel: Sportsmanship has improved so much over the years. I’ve competed at every Worlds and can say, hands down, that the last two to three years, teams from all over the World have been so great about cheering for each other. No matter who’s on the mat, if something’s amazing then everyone cheers and it hasn’t always been like that.
Shayla: Cheering on every team regardless of if they mess up. I saw a few instances of this at Worlds this year.
Ambrel: Also, taking action by not saying anything negative about a team or a mistake. We all make [mistakes], so it’s your responsibility to help pick that person or team back up by cheering them on.
Brooke: Cheering for all teams no matter what level, or how well known or unknown they may be.
Jonathan: Just simply walking past a person and saying good job goes a long way. Something like that could make me forget all the mistakes and try to look at things positively.
AC: How would you describe the ultimate all-star cheerleader?
Brooke: They aren’t only skilled at tumbling, stunting, jumps and dance, they also have a love for the sport, a love for their teammates and coaches and show respect and good sportsmanship at all times.
Kendall: A leader, a strong competitor, someone who can contribute in all aspects of the routine—a well-rounded athlete. I also think the sport has come into some issues with this in terms of people and fans having favorite athletes and people they consider ‘the best.’
Jonathan: [They’re] the one on the team who smiles and gives words of encouragement when they can see that their teammates are nervous.
Shayla: A cheerleader who leads when it’s time, steps back when needed and motivates others.
AC: What do you guys think about the evolution of “cheerlebrities”?
Brooke: They give younger girls someone to admire, someone to emulate but can sometimes take the focus off the team.
Kendall: I think they’re good and important in the sport, but at times who people think is amazing and the best to look up to really doesn’t match up. And some of those all-around cheerleaders aren’t getting any recognition at all.
Ambrel: It’s an interesting idea to start naming cheerlebrities. I’ve been cheering for 16 years and I would say on some level there’ve always been those who are looked up to. But, it’s important for those being named to realize the responsibility that it brings with young athletes looking up to them—and that means in all walks of their lives, not just in cheer.
Jonathan: I like the idea of it, but I think it’s going too far in a sense. You have little kids sometimes doing the wrong things just to be in the “in crowd.” A cheerlebrity shouldn’t only be a great role model, but genuinely a good person.
Shayla: It’s great to have a person to aspire to be like, but cheerleading is a team sport. The whole team should be recognized, not just one person singled out like a celebrity.
Ambrel: I think the definition of “cheerlebrity” itself needs to redefined to mean more than just an athlete who’s amazing at one particular thing.
AC: Are there any parts of all-star cheerleading that you guys think needs to change or evolve?
Jonathan: I think we should upscale the dances. One of the main reasons I started cheering was because I love to tumble and stunt but I’m also a dancer and wanted to combine what I loved.
Brooke: I love dance too! It’s one of my favorite parts of the routine.
Shayla: The dance is the best part of the whole thing.
Jonathan: To me, dance shows your true character. If you fall all over the place [during your routine], you shouldn’t get to the dance and be pouty and depressed.
AC: Which gym would you guys most want to practice in for a day?
Kendall: Cheer Athletics.
Shayla: California All Stars.
Jonathan: Top Gun, just to see how they teach and how they come up with their amazing choreography.
AC: Which programs do you guys most look up to?
Kendall: Stingrays. The kids are so nice and respectful and their routines are always clean and amazing.
Jonathan: I agree. Not only is Stingrays a good program, it’s the way the kids act even off the floor. They’re always so nice.
Shayla: Cheer Extreme, because their stunting and choreography is so innovative and exciting.
Brooke: I love Charlotte All Stars. The kids and coaches in their program are respectful and so talented.
AC: How do you beat the stereotype of a cheerleader that so many people have?
Kendall: I simply show them a video of what I do. But the sport has become so big that people who aren’t involved tend to know what you’re talking about if you say “competitive cheerleading.” They’ll usually say, “Oh, like on TV?”
Brooke: I agree. Showing people videos or telling them to check us out on ESPN usually does the trick.
Shayla: When someone asks if I’m a cheerleader they ask “for what school?” They think of cheerleading as being on the sidelines; they don’t think about it being an actual sport, so I show them.
AC: Do you think the cheerleading stereotype has been changing recently? If so, due to what factors?
Jonathan: People are seeing that it’s not all makeup and smiles, it’s hard work and determination that gets you through that routine.
Brooke: I do. People at school who don’t know about all-star will be flipping through channels and see me and they’re like “wow, you really do hard stuff.”
AC: What do you guys think about current trends in uniforms, hair and makeup?
Brooke: It’s all about the hair, the style and the makeup! I like the traditional uniforms though, not shorts. I wore shorts once—it wasn’t my favorite.
Jonathan: At Twist & Shout, we really care about what our appearance says because that’s a huge stereotype in the cheer world. Moms sometimes mistake our sport as trashy and not classy because the skirts are a little too short. So, I really like how some teams aren’t doing that anymore. Also, if you can pull off the shorts do them, but make sure everyone still looks classy! And more importantly, make sure everyone is comfortable showing that much skin.
AC: How do you guys manage to juggle school and a hard-core cheer career?
Kendall: A lot of homework in the car or studying at practice.
Shayla: It’s hard work and there’s hardly any down time, but I love it. I cheer for all-star and school, and maintain an A/B average.
Brooke: It’s tough sometimes, especially as I’ve gotten older. I don’t have to take gym class because of cheer though, which allows me an extra period to take a study hall. I also use my one-hour car ride to the gym to study and read.
AC: What is it about the sport that you guys love so much?
Brooke: I love hitting the floor with a routine that we’ve worked so hard on and showing everyone what we’ve accomplished. I love seeing the tears on my coaches’ faces when we do our job well. Also, I’ve made my best friends in life through cheer.
Shayla: I’ve been cheering since I was 5; it’s all I know. It’s in my blood. I love absolutely everything about it. The best part is being onstage and performing with my team.
Jonathan: For 2 minutes and 30 seconds you can be anyone you want to be. If you want to work hard and be a fierce/amazing tumbler, you can be that. If you want your toe-touches to slap your ears off, you can work to have that. And if you want to go Beyoncé/“So You Think You Can Dance” in the dance section, you can do that, too. You can be anything—and anyone—you want to be. That’s truly why I love it.