Kamloops will play host to a major development in the growth of cheerleading as a sport next weekend, when the first official B.C. Provincial Cheerleading Championship comes to the Tournament Capital Centre (TCC).
Though cheerleading competitions have long been running across Canada, the events are individually produced and privately owned. Next week's championship marks a shift, as the B.C. Cheerleading Association begins organizing their own event in pursuit of more funding and to help cheerleading become recognized as a national sport.
"We're sort of going through a renaissance because Cheer Canada is newly minted and up and running in the past couple of years," says Keri Lewis, owner of Freeze Athletics and secretary of the B.C. Cheerleading Association.
"The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has provisionally recognized cheerleading as a sport, which has breathed new life into national governance and provincial governance. And part of that is, in order to be recognized and accredited as a national sport, you have to build a national championship structure which includes provincial championships."
Currently, there is no official national championship in Canada for cheerleading. There is an event in Ontario called the "Cheer Evolution National Championships," but no qualification is necessary. Any team can register.Under the proposed system by Cheer Canada, only winners of provincial competitions would qualify for the national one. However, establishing a national championship is just one of the many criteria Cheer Canada has to meet to become a National Sport Organization (NSO) and receive funding from Sport Canada. In the organization's recently published strategic plan, the goal was to be in a position to apply for funding in 2021.
The B.C. Cheerleading Association decided to get an early start on organizing their provincial championship though and Kamloops made sense to become the first host.
"We decided we were going to put one on and Kamloops came to mind as a good spot because A) I live here and I was part of the organization committee and B) the venue here is so great," says Lewis. "The (TCC), we have grants and opportunities to use facilities that would otherwise be unattainable for a first-year competition elsewhere."
While they can't award bids to a national championship that doesn't exist yet, certain teams can earn a spot in the World School Cheerleading Championships in Florida next February if they perform well in next week's championship.
Those bids were previously given out at the Sea to Sky Championship, which is still the biggest competition in the province. But Lewis says that their provincial championship can be a more affordable option than the big private events.
"It has everything you need, it has accredited judges and it's more accessible for some of the smaller programs," she says. "We have programs coming from Fort St. John and Prince George. And having one in the Interior is interesting too because it's more accessible for a lot of places in the province. When we get funding from the province, or when we get funding from the NSO, we are able to increase our operations as far as lower cost competitions, scholarships and all kinds of stuff."
They've already been approved by viaSport for some funding of next year's championship and Lewis says the hope is to get more help on the organizational side, so board members aren't putting together everything.This year, there will be 50 teams, more than 600 athletes, around 100 coaches and a handful of accredited judges who will descend on the TCC for the one-day competition. Teams will be competing in all different age groups, from Tiny (ages five to six) to Open, (an adult category). Lewis says there will even be a routine by a team of parents from Freeze Athletics.
"We're really pushing that this is a sport for life and that once you get involved it can be something that's fun and active and keeps you engaged for a long time," she tells KamloopsMatters.
The championship will be held Saturday, April 13. Routines will be performed about every five minutes starting at 9 a.m. and running until 4 p.m. Each team will perform once unless they are vying for the scholastic bid to the world championships; then they'll have to do two routines.
Locally, Thompson Rivers University teams will be partaking, although they already secured a world championship bid back in March.
Freeze will also have nine teams competing (as well as their parent team) and though her teams usually perform well, Lewis isn't sure what to expect in front of a home crowd.
"Our goal is always to go out and have a clean run, which means no deductions," she says. "That's always our goal in these smaller, one-day competitions. Obviously, we're pretty confident that we're able to represent on our home turf pretty well, so we're excited to do that. But there are some great teams coming so you just don't know. It depends on the run, depends on the day, depends on the athlete. There's always a little bit of nervousness having everybody you know watching you since you're at a local competition, so we'll see how that goes."
It's $5 for spectators to get in (free for ages three and under). For more information on the event, click HERE.