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Cheer Extreme Richmond gave Richmond magazine insider access to one of their very first practices of the season -- the first steps on a long road to World Championships next April. Watch our video to see them in action and hear more about how All Star cheerleading got started in Richmond, 30 years ago!
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Photo by Jay Paul
Members of the Cheer Extreme Richmond Orange Crush team, from left: Bri Johnson, 11; Chloe Sims, 10; Jada Smith, 11; and (center) Christiana Anderson, 11
It’s a balmy August evening as summer starts winding down, but inside a cavernous unit of a Parham Road business complex, the temperature is heating up. Girls in Lycra crop tops and short shorts, their ponytailed heads topped with sparkly ribbon, perform a series of tumbles, stunts, pyramids and jumps as three coaches shout directions and encouragement.
This is the Cheer Extreme Richmond gym in Henrico, where, since May, about 200 girls (and a couple of boys) have been in training for the All Star cheerleading competitive season that starts this month and finishes next April with the holy grail of competitions: the Cheerleading World Championship, held at Disney World.
It’s a far cry from the scene pre-1982, when Richmond resident Hilda McDaniel formed the squad that was to become the country’s first ever All Star team. Having cut her teeth coaching cheerleaders for the Tuckahoe Little League Football Association, she’d developed a taste for the competitive side of the sport, and began hand-picking girls from around the region for a new team.
“The Q94 Rockers was the first time that they took some kids from one school and … pulled them from all over,” says Catherine Paige, McDaniel’s niece and the gym director of Cheer Extreme Richmond. A Lee-Davis student herself, Paige says, “When I was on the team,I met kids from Godwin, from Freeman, from Tucker — and that’s how it is now.”
After debuting at the National Cheerleaders Association’s championships in 1984, McDaniel’s Q94 Rockers effectively forced the NCA to come up with a new division for competitive cheerleading — one that did not require the teams to be associated with a school or little league.
“When we got there, we were the only non-school team,” says McDaniel’s daughter Kendall Tyler, who competed that first year. The Rockers qualified because they met the NCA’s only requirement, that you had to cheer for a team — even though it was a radio-station basketball team and, as Tyler notes, “only a bunch of old dudes.”
The school teams weren’t happy, especially when the Rockers won the nationals in 1986. “That’s when they kicked us out,” Tyler says. “They put us in another division.” At the following year’s championships, All Star cheerleading was born. Suddenly, she says, All Star teams “were popping up in cities all over.”
Today, there are about 2,500 All Star cheer gyms across the country, according to Lynn Singer of national governing body the United States All Star Federation. “It got way bigger than Richmond,” Paige says.
McDaniel, who died in 2011, would be shocked at the sport’s evolution since then, Paige says, noting “how commercial and territorial it’s become. Hilda would go crazy over how it’s become so big.”
This article has been corrected since publication. National Cheerleading Association has been corrected to National Cheerleaders Association.