Port Stanley Villager March 2020

Today, cheerleading is a dynamic symbol of Western University’s cul- ture. Typically accompanied by the school’s marching band, cheerleading not only raises the spirits of Western sports fans, it has also become an integral part of homecoming, parades and orientation. “I love school traditions,” said Trace, adding that his cheerleaders sing the Western School Song after every Mustangs touch down. Cheerleading is a predominantly American activity, with an estimated 1.5 million participants in the U.S. According to Wikipedia, students in England started cheering and chanting in unison at sports events in the 1860s and that enthusiasmspread to America. On November 6, 1869, at an intercollegiate football game, student fans cheered and shouted “Sis Boom Rah!” for the first time. It became a global phenomenon after ESPN’s 1997 broadcast of an international cheerleading com- petition. The release of the film Bring it On in 2000 added fueled to the fire. There are now an estimated 100,000 participants outside the U.S., in countries like Canada, Australia, China, Colombia, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and England. Trace took over the Western cheer- leading team in 1980 and started a revolution of sorts. “I didn’t like that cheerleading was so goofy, so I took it upon myself to change it. I wanted it to be perceived as athletic and difficult, not just rah-rah and pom-poms.” He took his team to U.S. training camps and soon the pyramids and hoists of early cheerleading routines evolved into

complicated throws and gymnastics. “We modelled out stuff after what was going on down there. I like the tricks and the flips.” In 1988, he formed Power Cheerleading Athletics and started sharing the knowledge gained in the U.S. He later opened his own gym, home of five Vipers cheerleading squads. Trace’s most popular “trick” is known as the Western Helicopter. Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5JbTOc9AXY . It’s an impressive acrobatic performance: five or six people on the ground, spinning and throwing three other athletes, in skydiver formation, up to 15 feet in the air. “You have to have that show-off gene in you,” said Trace. “I want the kids to get that buzz, that feedback thing from the crowd.” Western has a 35-member co-ed cheerleading squad, as well as a 38-member, all-women team. Many of Trace’s recruits are gymnasts and figure skaters, as well as volleyball, hockey and rugby players. “Our job is to connect the play on the field with the people in the stands,” he said. “Flips and spins are used to get into the spectators’ sightline, not to interfere in watching the game, but to enhance the experience. You don’t go to a football game to cheer, you go to watch football.” Children start cheerleading in Ontario at age four years, and they can advance through Ontario Cheerleading Federation ranks until they’re 18 years old. Competition includes events in eight cities across Ontario. The nationals are held in April, in Niagara, and the worlds in April, in Orlando. Trace considers his greatest accomplishments are the 11 Western alumni who have gone on from his program to open their own gym. “The highlights are never the winning. They’re wonderful, but to me it’s watching the joy of the athletes. I hope I’m passing on that enthusiasm. To me, that’s success.”

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Port Stanley Villager • March 2020 • Page 7

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