Clarence Fulton’s cheerleading team (from left) Nicole Doerges (top)

Clarence Fulton’s cheerleading team (from left) Nicole Doerges (top)

Cheer team breaking down stigma

Sport is more than just cute little outfits and pom-poms - Fulton’s cheerleading team has literally risen to the top

Excelling in a sport that is more than just cute little outfits and pom-poms, Fulton’s cheerleading team has quite literally risen to the top.

It all started with student Georgia Wilson, a former England cheer team student, who brought the idea to the school in 2009.

In Grade 8 at the time (now going into Grade 12), Wilson pitched the idea of a cheerleading team to principal Malcolm Reid.

“Mr. Reid said yes, thinking we would just ‘woo woo raa raa’ at football games,” recalls Fallon Larter, Fulton Maroon cheerleading coach.

In between vigorous practices they did just that for the first few years. But as their skill developed and the team strengthened, this past year’s team took their routine to the big league.

“This has been our first year competing,” said Larter, as the currently all-girls team took part in the Okanagan’s first cheerleading competition in May.

“The girls did exceptionally well for their first competition,” said Larter.

They brought home a third place trophy in their division, a second for their sideline routine (a collaboration of their three best football cheers) and Wilson secured first in the jump competition while Cassidy Erickson earned second.

But perhaps one of the proudest honours the girls earned was an unexpected trophy.

“When we registered for this competition we found out that there was going to be a school spirit award being given out; there would be secret judges looking for the team with the best spirit,” said Larter.

With different teams going around handing out candies, gift boxes and such the Maroons figured they had no chance of winning.

Much to their surprise, the girls actually earned the award.

“We were told that our team won this award because throughout the day, all of the secret judges saw us sticking together, supporting each other and other teams, not looking at everyone as competition,” beams Larter.

It’s that aspect of the team that Larter loves most.

“Being on a cheerleading team is so different from being a part of anything else,” said Larter.

“Being on the cheer team not only gives the girls a place for physical activity or learning about leadership and representing their school with pride; it also gives them a place to make friends, to be a part of a large and always growing Fulton family.”

This particular family started in its first year with more than 40 girls eager to be a part of. But discovering just how difficult the sport is – risky throws, being able to trust someone to catch you after you’re thrown 15 feet in the air – the family quickly shrunk.

“When things got serious, it wasn’t just ‘ra ra ra’ for football and basketball, just about everyone quit. I was left with a handful of very dedicated and hardworking girls,” said Larter.

The small team continued for two years (which included a few boys at the time), and then last year 56 tried out – 23 made the cut.

During that time, Larter faced some of her own challenges.

“A lot of my mentors and other coaches tell me very often that I am at a disadvantage, being so close in age with the girls, that ‘they won’t respect you because you’re one of their peers,’” said Larter, who joined the team in 2009, has since graduated and is now a certified cheerleading coach. “I disagree. My girls respect me because they love me and not because they’re scared of me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Another challenge Larter and the team have faced is the stereotype that cheerleading is not a sport.

“Holding this team together has not been easy. Cheerleading isn’t big in Canada, let alone in Vernon. A lot of people don’t consider cheerleading a sport.”

But the team’s dedication and skill confirms that there is more to cheering than many think.

There are also funding challenges with cheering. Because cheerleading isn’t recognized as a sport team, they receive no funding from the school board.

That leaves uniforms, shoes, travel, competition fees and safety gear (including mats which cost upwards of $1,600), up to them.

“We need seven of them. We were lucky to get one this past year paid for by Mr. Reid. But it’s not enough.”

Despite all the challenges they face, the team continues to rise above.

“We don’t complain, because we love the sport. We love what we do.”

In fact, Larter loves coaching the sport so much that she is hosting a cheerleading camp for ages five to 18 this summer.

Athletes will learn the basics in motions, dance, jumps, cheers and stunting (lifting people). There will be a cheer-themed craft for kids ages five to seven. The camp takes place at Fulton secondary from Aug. 12 to 16. Register by Aug. 10 by calling 250-306-6279

Next year she will bring the team back to the Okanagan Cheerleading Championships in Kelowna, and also hopes to bring them to Cheer Fest in Abbotsford.