Strength in numbers: Male cheerleaders in high demand
A male cheerleading boom is happening in parts of the country, and the Chicago area is one of them. WGN’s Pat Tomasulo says some teams are desperate for guys which could lead to college scholarships.
Jared Erlenbaugh is head coach for an Illinois All Star team that practices at Ultimate Athletics in Wauconda. He’s drawn kids from 26 different high schools. “Illinois is a very very competitive state in the cheerleading world. It’s one of the top 5 I would say in the country as far as competitive cheerleading. It’s just as intense as some of the other college division one sports. The guy that actually was our trainer at the University of Kentucky would say we would out lift some of the football players.” The University of Kentucky is considered the premier cheerleading program in the country. Endowments also allow UK to offer the best scholarships. Erlenbaugh is a grad and has faith that at least three of his all stars have a UK shot.
Rockford Senior Evan Larson is one of them. “I think adding guys makes it a lot more athletic. The girls get thrown higher-thrown faster. It just makes it as a whole the routine is a lot more exciting.” Last year, Larson was the first male *ever to try out for his high school team. And though he was a coach’s dream come true- the Athletic Director balked. “Coach had to fight and fight to get me on the team. So it was a big controversy for a while.” Evan’s decision to cheer thrilled his female friends, but confused the males in the crowd.
“I had a few friends they were like, you’re doing cheerleading?- cause they played football. And so they’re like you’re doing cheerleading- that’s kinda weird. Usually that’s what all the girls do.” Senior Justin Mark from Plainfield felt the stigma at his school too. “People would call me gay and ostracize me because they thought you’re a male cheerleader you’re gay. And that’s just not how it is. I tried baseball, I tried soccer and I tried basketball andfootball, but none of them like really fit me and my personality.”
Justin started gymnastics at age 7, training that’s served him well. He now drives all the way from Plainfield three times a week to train and compete with these All Stars. “I feel like there’s a big bond between everyone just because we’ve been cheering. We haven’t been cheering together, but we have a love for the sport.” Bianca Bialk has cheered for years- with girls. At first she found working with guys a little weird. “It’s different. I’m not used to having guys on my team and it’s a lot more fun. And they’re a lot more fearless than girls and I think that rubs off on us and I love that.”
Girls like Bianca can be the best recruiters. “They meet more girls than other guys will probably ever get.” In high school, 97% of cheerleaders are female. At the college level, coach Erlenbaugh says it’s about 50-50. “The best way to recruit a guy is to get him into a gym. There’s tons of programs all over the country that would love big athletic boys that can stunt.” Evan and Justin didn’t have to say a thing for other students to finally get it. “This year when I would tumble or stunt on the track at school, people would be like whoa, you can do all that?”, says Justin. Evan experienced the same praise. “Once they saw me at a game and everything they were like oh my god you’re so good. So that felt really good for me that I made such a big change just doing what I love doing.” Try-outs at the University of Kentucky are by invitation only.
Justin and Bianca have already earned invites. Evan is hoping he’s next and that scholarship money will follow. Now might be a good time to get in. The number of high schools offering co-ed cheer teams nearly doubled in the past year. If you text the word COVER to 97-999 we’ll send you the video link to share. And click these links for more information.
Pam Grimes produced this story for Pat. Steve Scheuer was the photographer and editor.