A strong base

Male cheerleaders combine muscle and athleticism to bolster Queen’s team

Eleven members of the Queen’s cheerleading team are males.
Eleven members of the Queen’s cheerleading team are males.
Queen’s won the national cheerleading title in 2007.
Queen’s won the national cheerleading title in 2007.

Mike Wilton’s first encounter with the intensity of cheerleading came during his first-year tryout for Queen’s.

“They tested our max bench press, made us squat 200 pounds 10 times, clean and jerk [a certain] amount of weight,” he said. “I was like, ‘All this for cheerleading?’”

Eleven of the 35 members of Queen’s cheerleading team are men. They come from a varied athletic background, but few had any cheerleading experience before picking it up in university.

Wilton, a fifth-year engineering student who’s competed with Queen’s since first-year, credits a thorough training program for getting himself and his teammates up to speed.

“I came here not knowing how to do a cartwheel,” he said. “Now, I can do a running tumbling line and a backflip.”

Wilton played several sports in high school, including football. Although he’s now cheering on his counterparts on the gridiron, he’s still confronted by the rigors of any competitive sport.

“[Cheerleading’s] really physically demanding, in different ways than I’d ever experienced in other sports,” Wilton said. “It’s low impact, but you have to be very controlled in all your movements. It’s more finesse, rather than running and hitting someone as hard as you can.”

Male cheerleaders must be athletic enough to perform basic gymnastic exercises and strong enough to lift, throw and catch their female teammates.

Cheerleaders are divided into one of two positions: bases and tops. The labels are taken quite literally — bases, including each male member of the Queen’s team, form the foundation of all stunts, coordinating the toss of the female cheerleaders at the top.

Each year, the team holds an open practice to demonstrate the routine they perform in competitions to friends and family.

“From there, they gain a lot more respect for what we do,” Wilton said.

While he receives the occasional ribbing from his friends at home, Wilton is quick to point out the benefits of being on the team.

“I get to hang out with gorgeous women all day.”

Wilton and his teammates also gain exposure by performing at each home football game. They follow every Gaels score by performing an equivalent number of pushups, which can reach excessive heights against Queen’s lesser opponents.

“[Football games] are ideal for the performance aspect — when you’re going out and performing in front of a crowd,” said Kevin Pat Fong, Queen’s head coach.

The fall football season serves as a tune-up for major cheerleading competitions in the winter. Queen’s will attend three events this season, including the national championships on Dec. 1.

For the past few decades, Queen’s most significant competition has been the school’s traditional rival.Western has won every collegiate national championship since 1985 — except for 2007, when Queen’s pulled off an historic upset.

The competitive nature of intercollegiate cheerleading is what separates Fong’s team from related organizations on campus, such as the Dance Pack.

“We’re geared more toward the sporting aspect,” Fong said. “We had a big talk with Athletics at the start of the season, and they view us as a competitive sport. The Dance Pack is more recreational, to add atmosphere [at the games].”

Besides an overarching disdain for Western, the football and cheerleading teams share another common trait: the ability to mask discomfort in the midst of competition.

“You need to make [competing] look easy — even if you’re in pain, or something’s broken,” Fong said. “You just have to smile.”

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