TAMPA — There are people who don’t consider cheerleaders to be athletes.
Those people are wrong.
Football players have to try to catch a two-pound football. If they drop it, no big deal. Second down. For cheerleaders, they have to catch a 100-pound teammate. If they drop her, that’s pretty serious.
The girls who cheer for teams in the Tampa Bay Youth Football League at Radice Park are more than happy to show their scars. They have broken bones and love doing what they do. They are rooting for the boys, but they are also as competitive as the boys. The girls who wave their pom-poms Saturday mornings are also practicing five times a week and going after the gold in competitions.
They understand the stereotype about cheerleaders and simply ignore it. They aren’t only out entertain and have fun — they are out to win.
At a recent practice at the TBYF Colts cheerleader gathering, several cheerleaders said they laugh when football players limp off the field with a slight ding. The cheerleaders, they said, have the broken bones to show for it.
“We work as hard as the boys,” said Lexi Smith, a seventh-grader at Davidsen Middle School. “It’s just like football. We have to work as a team and always know what we are doing, but if we make a mistake, we can get hurt worse than the boys.”
Molly O’Donnell said it’s all about having confidence in her teammates. The girls can’t throw the other girls in the air, but the stunts are a little extreme and she and her teammates simply have to believe in each other.
“I was nervous when we started doing stunts for competitions,” Lexi said. “I had to learn that I could trust them and I found out that I could. Once I learned that they weren’t going to drop me during competition, I knew I could do this.”
With sprained ankles, broken bones and fractured wrists, the middle school girls say they still enjoy doing what they do.
“Most people think all we do is tumble,” said seventh-grader Sophia Blaze. “But we do so much more. We do a lot and work as hard as the boys.”
The Westchase Colts have gained notice from all over Hillsborough County. They have won two straight championships and have participated successfully in plenty of other competitions.
“We are athletes just like the football players,” Lexi said. “We are really good.”