More than just pom-poms and big hair

Shouts of “5,6, 7, 8,” can be heard echoing though the University of Toronto at Scarborough Campus dance studio in the late evening hours of a cool fall night.

Inside the bright studio stands most men’s fantasy: 15 stunningly beautiful girls jumping in shorts and tank tops.

Jenna Bergerson poses on a break from a late evening cheerleading practice at UTSC.
Jenna Bergerson on a break from cheerleading practice at UTSC.

Even sweating profusely they look almost impeccable.

But they’re not your stereotypical cheerleaders. These girls are much more than the image of skinny, ditsy, and blonde bombshells.

They are highly intelligent, witty, and overall nice people.

Jannine Perera, 21, is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. She is a double health and biology major and also co-captain of the UTSC cheerleading squad.

Perera has been cheerleading since her Grade 9 year. Although she only stands at about 5’, she is very muscular and her personality makes her seem bigger than her body.

Perera is an overall athlete, participating in ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, soccer, flag football and field hockey at UTSC. On top of her sports and school, she also works two jobs.

“I think people think that cheerleaders are dancers who waive pom-poms around. But power cheerleading, which is what we do, is jumps, strength training, stunting all that kind of stuff,” Perera says.

She has incurred more than her fair share of people questioning her sport of choice.

“People who have never tried it or never seen it don’t know how much work goes into it, and don’t take us seriously,” Perera says.

Contrary to popular belief, cheerleading was not started by a group of attractive females but instead it was originated by a group of men in the 1800s at Ivy League school Princeton.

It was most men were cheerleaders until women were formally invited at the University of Minnesota in 1920s.

On the outside Perera’s friend and fellow cheerleader Jenna Bergerson, seems to be the quintessential cheerleader. She is blonde, gorgeous, and has a personality that you’re drawn to.
Although it’s past 10 p.m., and Jenna has been out of her house all day, Jenna is full of energy.

She is determined to jump the highest and shout the loudest although her body and mind want her to sit down and rest.

She jokes about her exhaustion all while keeping a smile on her face.

Bergerson, 20, is a triple minor in History, Geography and English. She started cheerleading when she started at UTSC, three years ago.

She doesn’t consider herself or any of her fellow cheerleaders to fit in to the stereotype that may have of cheerleaders, but she does think that people consider cheerleaders to be unintelligent because of their perky personas.

“I think that it’s more stereotyped by the media and through movies. I think they portray us as being dumb blondes or that you have to be stupid to be a cheerleader,” says Bergerson.

On top of her commitment to her championship winning cheerleading squad, Jenna is also a skilled soccer player. She has played for the UTSC soccer team for two years and won a championship for Scarborough Campus in 2007.

Like Perera, one job just isn’t enough for Bergerson who works three jobs.

Most of the girls on the UTSC cheerleading squad’s lives are equally as busy as Perera and Bergerson.

Since cheerleading started in the 1800s, it has been growing in size as well and depth at a rapid rate. It is no longer just pom-poms and big hair.

“Cheerleading has been changing over the last few years, so people more are starting to see it more as a sport and not just dancing,” Bergerson.

Though it is considered a sport in the UK and the heated debate rages on here in North America. There are still a lot of doubters that don’t think cheerleading should ever be considered a sport. But the UTSC cheerleaders don’t care. To them, cheerleaders are just as tough as any football player.

To the non-believers Bergerson says: “Maybe they should try lifting people in the air and see what its like!”