There are few things more synonymous with football than cheerleading, but they’re often seen as two very different activities. But perhaps the two sports have more in common than one might think.
For someone who isn’t familiar with football, it can be a daunting sport to understand. Not only are there tons of rules, but the jargon can be absolutely overwhelming: Brown Right F Short 2 Jet Flanker Drive. No really. That’s an actual play. And even football’s general concepts like ‘play action’ – or faking a hand-off before attempting to throw – usually have unique names that don’t necessarily correspond with what spectators see. As it turns out, cheerleading has its own language too.
For instance, ‘baskets’ are the interlocking arms a cheerleader lands in after being hoisted up or thrown into the air. Taylor Hodges has been cheering with FSU for four years; she describes what ‘peekaboo’ means for the cheer team.
“Peekaboo is when – it’s a pyramid. So there’s two girls on the ground, two girls on their shoulders, so one on each, and then the two top girls bend over and a girl jumps on their back. So she comes from behind, and is like ‘peekaboo,’” Hodges says.
Kaycee Dobbins has been cheering for three years, and she shares another thing called ‘five-five-fives’
“So we do five standing tucks, five back handspring tucks, and five – or three toebacks and two triple toebacks, and then we’ll do running/tumbling five of each skill,” Dobbins says.
So for those keeping score, that’s backflips with no hands, backflips with hands, a jumping toe-touch followed by a back flip and then three jumping toe touches in a row followed by – you guessed it – another back flip.
Jaime White’s been cheering with FSU for four years, and she says the cheerleaders have to be just as tough as the teams they cheer for.
“We get hit left and right,” White says, “we get concussions left and right; I currently have a broken nose from nationals last year, and I can’t even get surgery on it because I still have one more year of cheerleading, and it’s going to get hit again.”
Zach Morehouse is in his fourth year with Florida State, but he started cheering back in middle school. He says the training regimen is just as demanding as any other sport.
“When it comes down to it,” Morehouse says, “we’re practicing every day; either stunting at practice or in the weight room with the same strength coaches and stuff like that all the other athletes have, and we’re required even outside of that to meet up with our partners and work to get good for the sideline.”
Taylor Hodges agrees and says cheerleaders have an added hurdle: “We have to look good while we do it.”
But their coach, Staci Sutton, says there are more practical reasons why cheerleading can be a challenge.
“These kids don’t get scholarships, so they’re all here because they want to be, and it’s something that’s in their heart and they love to do. And I think that’s special, especially for a coach,” Sutton says.
On the sidelines before the game against Clemson, part of the cheer team is doing aerial stunts while others are sliding flags onto poles and wrapping them up with tape.
After a slow start, the game picks up near the end, and Florida State wins in overtime. As the final play ends, fireworks explode at the opposite end of the stadium. The cheer team is ecstatic. Here’s Jaime White again.
“It’s our senior year,” White screams, “our last Clemson vs. Florida State game ever, and it’s one to remember till my grave. I’m not kidding!”
Ten minutes after the game ends, after the players have made their way off the field and through the tunnel, the cheerleaders are still on the sidelines. Dancing, waving and screaming up at the fans. They aren’t doing any set cheers, they’re just basking in the victory. They earned it.