Dubbed the “Olympics of cheerleading”, the biennial competition will be held from November 26-27 at the Hong Kong Coliseum and will pit around 70 teams from 20 countries. The 2011 CWC marks the Philippines’ debut in the international cheerleading arena.
The 55-member national delegation is comprised of students from three cheerleading teams – the UP Pep Squad, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) Stars and the Centro Escolar University (CEU) Lady Scorpions. They will be competing in the group stunt, partner stunt, cheer mixed and cheer dance categories.
“This didn’t come from out of the blue – these guys paid their dues going there. They had to go through literally the eye of the needle,” said Evan Alvia, president of the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines Cheerleading Federation.
Assistant coach and professor Pio Niño Opinaldo is optimistic about UP Pep’s performance. He recounted how a month after winning the UAAP Cheerdance, the team members continued training for six hours daily to get in shape for the CWC.
Squad captain Kathleen Madrigal, a graduating elementary education student, said: “(We feel) honored but pressured. There are lots of people to handle, but I still have the captains of PUP and CEU to help me out.”
Funds and government aid
Plans of sending the UP Pep Squad to the 2009 CWC in Bremen, Germany fell through due to financial constraints and visa conflicts. Two years after that botched attempt, the national contingent had to raise P5-million – with expenses pegged at $850 per person – to cover the costs for this year’s competition.
Alvia explained that since cheerleading was not an Olympic sport, it was unreasonable to expect monetary support from the national government: “Government right now is sending 55 sports to the SEA Games. We don’t want to be a problem, we want to be part of the solution.”
Government’s contribution to the national contingent’s bid came in the form of tax exemptions, particularly on airport tax for the 55 players and their coaches. According to Alvia, making the teams raise their own funds for the competition instill in the players a stronger sense of discipline and community involvement.
“All through adversity, after 2009, they stuck around. They trained regularly. They trained just as hard as the boxers and the Olympic athletes. Some of them are magna cum laude and cum laude candidates. They’re not just gonna graduate as athletes doing nothing. We’re assured and we’re confident that they will progress in life. We stand up for them because they are role models,” he added.
The Philippine contingent showcased their final routines in a send-off at the UP College of Human Kinetics last November 20. The event also served as a turnover ceremony for the Mat Project, spearheaded by former Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs Grace Gregorio and art studies professor Eloisa Hernandez.
Launched at 9 a.m. on September 20, the project aimed to gather solicitations for new rubber training mats for the UP Pep Squad. Thanks to social networking and word-of-mouth, 300 pledges were gathered within thirty six hours of the campaign’s launch. Gregorio shared that once, when some pep squad members were gathered at the AS parking lot, an elderly man approached and handed them P1000 as his donation to the Mat Project.
Interestingly, it was not only UP alumni who were willing to extend financial support to the squad. Other notable donors include Patch Adejar of the University of Santo Tomas, Edward Yu of rubber manufacturing firm Bantex and columnist Tessa Prieto-Valdez.
Prieto-Valdez represented her contemporaries in Assumption High School Batch 1981, who pitched in P100,000 for the Mat Project. “It’s something else that we’re able to compete abroad even if it’s not for a sport. Even if it’s for the first time, win or lose, they’re already winners,” she said.
Even as he anticipated a strong showing from the national delegation, Alvia stressed the significance of their giving back to the community that made their CWC bid possible. He said, “It’s not about the winning. If they do win, and they feel better about what they are after the competition, then that’s paying it forward. If we train you to fund your own way, you can do that for other causes…If you get there, you know it’s because you deserved it.”