Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Cheerleaders Want to be Understood – The Plymouth Raiders Perspective

Posted on 7 December 2020 by Dami Adewale

Cheerleading as a sport has been underappreciated because of a general misunderstanding by the UK public.

The Plymouth Raiders Cheerleaders (PRC) represent the BBL team of the same name. The PRC are one of only a few cheerleading teams in the BBL, along with the Glasgow Rockettes and London Lionesses to name some others.

A Better Understanding

A lack of support can be attributed to poor knowledge of cheerleading. To begin with, if you type ‘is cheerleading’ into a Google search, the first option that comes up questions whether the activity is even a sport.

Raiders Cheerleaders head coach Emilie Perring provides a balanced argument, detailing why cheerleading may not be considered a sport and explaining why in fact it is:

As Perring alluded to in the above clip, there is a lot of nuance in cheerleading. The Raiders Cheerleaders focus more on dancing than ‘traditional cheerleading’ which she describes as involving tumbling (acrobatic flips) and lifting routines.

This is not by design. Hardwood floors of a basketball arena and time constraints make it potentially unsafe to perform the exciting formations of ‘normal’ cheerleading.

Cheerleading is unique because it is dependent on the other sport it is associated with. Perring explains how team cheerleaders are affected by the sport they are connected to:

The overarching support that Perring seeks in the previous clip reaches across society. This is pivotal in breaking down the gender barriers currently hampering cheerleading.

As highlighted by Perring earlier, society has a uniform idea when it comes to what cheerleading should look like. In the USA, we see where the problems lie even at the top level, i.e., the name of the Los Angeles Lakers cheerleading team is the ‘Laker Girls’, leaving no room for gender progression.

The Plymouth Raiders Cheerleaders are trailblazers in eradicating these gender barriers, introducing the UK’s first male BBL cheerleader, Terrell Lawrence. Perring speaks on the importance of this moment and removing gender stigma in general:

Current State of Affairs

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) recently announced a £300 million ‘Sport Winter Survival Package’ to help maintain English sports. Rugby Union alone received almost half of the funding at £135 million, Basketball received only £4 million and cheerleading was not even listed.

Perring is selfless when explaining the importance of cheerleading and why it needs more support. For her, raising the profile of cheerleading is bigger than the Plymouth Raiders, it is about the youth and their participation in the sport.

Perring said: “My role is to try and get as [many] young people in our community in the sport, and that is where my satisfaction comes from.”

There are real implications for cheerleading receiving such little support from governing bodies, and these are seen in Raiders Cheerleading. The team dances for free and considering some of the members circumstances, this emphasises their commitment to the cause.

Perring highlights the responsibilities of the team by providing vivid examples:

Despite the lack of funding for UK cheerleading, the Raiders Cheerleaders have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic admirably. As previously stated, they are a more dance-orientated team, rather than one of traditional cheer techniques.

Traditional cheer techniques involve a lot of touching; however, the dancing of the PRC is socially distanced so the team is not in physical contact with one another. Training was not heavily disrupted because of this until everyone was put on lock down.

Perring and the squad were not deterred by this and once again found unique ways to utilise their time. Perring said: “We meet every training night but we’ve been doing quiz nights rather than just focusing on dancing. I think being there for each other’s well-being has been more important than keeping up with the dance routines.” A statement that holds true during what can only be described as a tough period for everyone.

More to Come

Although cheerleading is generally underappreciated, Perring and the PRC are not solely focused on raising the stature of the game. The team sees the bigger picture, and when asked about how she would like the PRC to be remembered, Perring answered: “As more than a dance team”.