Cheerleading gains Slovak momentum

Set in motion over 100 years ago, the influence of Johnny Campbell is rolling into Slovakia. According to a cheerleading study conducted by the University of Wisconson - River Falls, Campbell became the first man to ever leave the stands of a sporting event to lead a cheer in front of a crowd on November 2, 1898.
Of course, cheering (which studies say was begun in the US) was born even earlier. In the late 1880's, a crowd at a Princeton University American football game shouted in unison: "Ray, Ray, Ray! TIGER, TIGER, SIS, SIS, SIS! BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Aaaaah! PRINCETON, PRINCETON, PRINCETON!" - the first recorded organised cheer.


The Nobelovo námestie cheerleading squad was formed two years ago. "I started because I like it," explains one of the girls.
photo: Courtesy Zlata Halahijová

Set in motion over 100 years ago, the influence of Johnny Campbell is rolling into Slovakia. According to a cheerleading study conducted by the University of Wisconson - River Falls, Campbell became the first man to ever leave the stands of a sporting event to lead a cheer in front of a crowd on November 2, 1898.

Of course, cheering (which studies say was begun in the US) was born even earlier. In the late 1880's, a crowd at a Princeton University American football game shouted in unison: "Ray, Ray, Ray! TIGER, TIGER, SIS, SIS, SIS! BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Aaaaah! PRINCETON, PRINCETON, PRINCETON!" - the first recorded organised cheer.

Since then, cheerleading has grown into a complex system of cheers, dances and often dangerous acrobatic feats. Cheerleaders at major American universities are now given full academic scholarships to encourage crowds, some of which number upwards of 100,000 spectators.

One of the latest milestones in cheerleading's development (see timeline) occurred in 1999, when the Nobelovo námestie (NN) elementary school in the Bratislava suburb of Petržalka formed its first ever cheerleading squad.

"The girls were inspired by baton twirlers they saw at cultural and sporting events," explained Zlata Halahijová, the school's cheerleading coach and a teacher of Ethics and German.

The NN cheer squad is divided into two groups: one group for girls with no athletic experience, and a second for those with a background in ballet or gymnastics. There are 12 cheerleaders in total ("They start when they hit puberty," says Halahijová), girls who have spurned other extracurricular activities such as volleyball and basketball to cheer on the school's boys in their sporting endeavours.


The cheer squad has decided to smile throughout their routines.

When asked what had attracted her to cheerleading, 13 year-old Petra Kováčová smiled and shrugged before responding: "I started cheerleading because I like it."

The NN girls, all of whom admit to harbouring ambitions of becoming professional cheerleaders some day, practice their routines for 45 minutes twice a week, said Halahijová, although the girls practice without their coach "constantly" when preparing for a big show. On June 25, for example, the NN cheer squad was on the sidelines for a football match at Slovan Stadium in Bratislava.

Besides providing a spark for the crowd, says Halahijová, performing at such events are also valuable in building the girls' character and self-esteem. "Cheerleading makes them stronger people," she said. "It helps build self-confidence and teaches them how to aim for their goals."

It also teaches teamwork. When asked about cheerleading, the girls answer in unison, and when asked to write their names down, one girl bends over, creating a table out of her back while another writes on the pad. That girl in turn creates a human table for the next cheerleader to write on, and so on down the line.

"You can just see the difference it makes in these girls," Halahijová continued. "They command a certain respect from their fellow students, their popularity is increased."

Petra agreed, alluding to another cheerleading perk: "Boys are more interested in cheerleaders," she said. "They're proud [when they date one], and they point us out, like 'that's my girl'."

The boys aren't the only proud ones, a fact which becomes evident for anyone who sits in on an NN cheerleading practice.

After apologising on behalf of a missing member at a June 26 session, five of the NN cheerleaders from the advanced group - Adriana Melechová, Soňa Čeredejevová, Linda Stanislavová, Silvia Hanzalová and Petra - bounced around the practice room energetically in tune to techno beats blaring from their music box. At one point, they gathered in a far corner, pompons swirling frenetically above their heads, then took turns charging into the middle of the room before rolling into a somersault. Perpetually smiling, they fell into line again, shaking their upper bodies as if they were MTV divas.

"They agreed to smile all the time throughout the routine," Halahijová says, adding that because of the great fun they have together, grinning comes naturally.

Halahijová has no cheerleading experience herself, so she teaches the girls routines by "watching television cassettes on cheerleading, reading some literature, and through improvisation. The girls come up with a lot of their own moves as well."

Where does the inspiration come from? One source, said Silvia, was Bring it on, the American movie about cheerleading. "Oh, yeah, that was a big inspiration," she says.

"It's good to do something like this, which is good for our bodies," adds Adriana. "We encourage the team and we're happy when our team wins." Johnny Campbell would be proud.

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