The girl on top of the human pyramid has full trust in the small arms holding her up.
It’s a Saturday morning and team members of the Galaxy Cheer All Stars, Wairarapa’s only competitive cheerleading squad, are lifting, jumping and flipping at Mandy’s Gym in Masterton.
They are thriving in the safe hands of their teenage coach and club founder, Elizabeth Pringle, whose passion for the sport raises the spirits – and bodies – of her young students.
Elizabeth started the Galaxy Cheer All Stars club at the beginning of this year aged just 15. Now 16, she has two teams of girls – and one boy – aged 7-14.
To set matters straight, there are no pom-poms.
“People think it’s all pom-poms and cheering for football teams,” Elizabeth said. “But All Star cheerleading is a sport of its own.”
Some children sign up for Elizabeth’s squad with the wrong idea.
“They ask, ‘when am I going to get my pom-poms?’ and I reply ‘Never’.”
Competitive cheerleaders’ hands are already full of each others’ limbs, or they are using them to complete difficult stunts.
“Cheerleading is a culture,” Elizabeth said. “It has so many components – teams go to competitions and have a routine that’s up to 2 minutes and 30 seconds long. “You have the jump section, tumbling section, stunt section, pyramid section and the dance section of a routine.”
Elizabeth began learning dance and gymnastics from the age of three, with the last few years at the Geraldine Inder School of Dance.
“I learnt that I loved being on stage and in the spotlight,” she said. “Cheerleading is really gymnastics and dance combined, so it was everything that I loved and wanted.”
During covid-19 lockdowns, Elizabeth came across cheerleading on YouTube.
“I thought, ‘I need to do this’, so I found a [team at a] gym in Lower Hutt and started going there two or three times a week, training for two hours, then arriving home about 10pm.
Elizabeth searched for cheerleading tutorials online that she could practise at home, working on her flexibility during 2020.
“It was hard getting over to practice in Lower Hutt, so I thought ‘I’m just going to do it here’. My mum [Jill] asked me what my dream job would be and I said ‘a cheer coach’.”
Elizabeth started a cheerleading group as a school holiday programme, setting up a Facebook group and advertising in school newsletters and “word just got around”.
She arranged to hire facilities at Mandy’s Gym for two hours a week and now coaches two teams – a beginner and recreational squad on Mondays and a more advanced team on Saturdays, with team members paying a term fee.
“The Saturday team works on going to competitions – first a virtual competition next year, where our video is judged and we’ll get some good feedback, then a big competition in Auckland.”
As numbers of cheerleaders increased, Elizabeth was joined in coaching by experienced cheerleader Georgia Harrison, giving teams the advantage of working on more new skills at their level.
As a coach, Elizabeth is steady and calm, quietly encouraging the children to lift safely and with confidence, into their pyramid formations, or performing “punchy” dance moves to the right timing.
The children listen to her intently and with respect, perhaps they know that even though she just slightly older than them, they must trust her to teach them the correct techniques.
“We just take it slowly and start with sitting down, or on knees, then take it more extreme, making sure everyone’s comfortable,” Elizabeth said.
Children who are lifted are called ‘flyers’ and a lot of that “is a mental game”.
“Flyers are chosen for their flexibility and strength and who can stay still in the air and don’t get too psyched out,” she said.
The most difficult stunt in cheerleading is probably a basket toss, where the person is thrown up and they flip or spin, then caught again.
“We’re definitely not there yet, but one day…,” Elizabeth said.
“I’m seeing these girls in Masterton practise at home and ask their parents for an air track [that you can tumble down] for Christmas.
“They’re just getting really into it – one wrote a story at school about cheerleading. It’s the same passion I had when I started.”
Elizabeth is completing secondary school studies and works part-time at Go Zone in Carterton. Her ambition goes well beyond Wairarapa.
“I eventually want to open my own gym in Masterton, then have gyms everywhere in New Zealand and have a Worlds Team to compete in America. That’s my biggest dream,” she said.
“I’m looking at different courses or internships that I can do in America. Texas is the home of cheerleading and a lot of Kiwis go and train on these huge teams in America.”
Elizabeth chose the slogan ‘Feel the fear, do it anyway’ for the cheerleaders’ t-shirts.
“If the children say they’re too scared to do this, I say, ‘just give it a try’.”
Cheerleaders at the Saturday class were quick to say what they love about Elizabeth’s club: “Tumbling, looking after your teammates, trusting the people underneath you and making friends with people we don’t know.”
- Contact the Galaxy Cheer All Stars on 021 02274120. Look out for the cheerleaders in Masterton’s Christmas Parade on Saturday, December 2.