Inside the world of competitive cheerleading in Western New York

Posted at 4:58 AM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 08:01:52-05

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WKBW) — It's an intense sport that's getting a lot of attention. Many people criticize Cheerleading saying "it's not a sport" or "cheerleaders are not athletes" yet the girls and boys who participate in the sport can tell you otherwise.

Since the Netflix Documentary "Cheer" captured people's attentions over the last few months, people have been able to get a glimpse into how draining and difficult the sport can be. Not only one one's physical health, but mental health as well.

Local cheerleading groups are happy with the attention competitive cheerleading is getting. Showing people what it is really like and how Cheering can be such a great thing for young people.

At Wild All-Stars Cheerleading in Orchard Park owners Jessica Szpylman, Rebekah Stiller, and Chelsea Puleo are teaching girls and boys of all ages how to flip, tumble and be teammates.

"It's a contact sport just like football or anything along those lines, but we just don't have the pads to protect us," Rebekah Stiller said.

Stiller says she hopes after people watch the documentary, they will have a better understanding for the sport.

"[Cheerleaders] are hard on their bodies, they're throwing people and catching them, they are tumbling and just like in gymnastics, it wears on your body," Stiller said. "To say we aren't athletes is not only an insult, it just shows that people aren't educated enough."

Eliyanah Theodore is an eight-year-old flyer, and has to trust her teammates to catch her.

"You have to become friends with them, and if you become friends with them then they will try not to drop you," Theodore said.

Stiller says cheering goes beyond athletics.

She says the people who cheer are constantly practicing the right techniques to stay healthy and win competitions; and in the process they learn skills like self-discipline and accountability. Just last year a new study showed that cheerleading has one of the highest concussion rates, not only at competitions but at practice as well.

"Our biggest goal is to just see growth in the gym, and growth in their performances," Stiller said. Their competition season ramps up beginning of June.