That’s a photo from last Sunday’s Grey Cup, the championship game for the Canadian Football League. Every Grey Cup features cheerleaders from all the CFL teams. They perform at events leading up to the game and the game itself. How awesome would it be if the NFL brought in all their cheerleading squads for the Super Bowl?
By Allison Salz
October 13, 2012
The days of ruffling pom-poms and shouting the team name are gone — these days it takes much more to be an Edmonton Eskimos cheerleader.
Cheerleading has come a long way since the Esks first joined the CFL in 1949. Back then, the team didn’t have a cheerleading squad, that would come in 1951. Instead, they had six baton twirlers who performed during the games.
Today’s team, made up of 42 guys and gals, has progressed even further since head coach Dianne Greenough took the reigns in 1995.
“The Eskimos cheer team has really evolved since I started. Back then it was turtleneck sweaters and pleated skirts, a very collegiate style,” she said.
“In the last five or six years, we separated the dance team and stunt team. Edmonton is a hotbed of amazing dancers. To work with them while at the same time adding stunters who were on Team Canada cheer team, is just excellent.”
Most of the team either has an extensive gymnastics or dance background, and in some cases both.
Kassidy, 21, whose last name is withheld for privacy reasons, has been dancing since the age of three.
Now a third-year veteran, she says being on the team is a way to stay involved with dance.
“I’ve been dancing since I was little, so I have training in tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, lyrical, contemporary,” she said, adding that while an asset, previous experience isn’t necessary.
“But, as long as you can move, we always encourage girls to come down and give it a try.”
And the job of an Esks cheerleader reaches far beyond the game performances.
For the hours that they perform at Eskimos home games, there are hours and hours more work behind the scenes, all of which is done on a volunteer basis.
All team members either have full-time jobs or go to school, while juggling the demands of being on an elite cheer team.
Kassidy juggles two jobs, while taking her nursing degree at the University of Alberta, on top of her duties as an Esks cheerleader.
She says it’s not uncommon for her to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to school, only to head straight to the field for a game after class wraps.
“I think a lot of people have the misconception that that’s all we do. We’re all very busy, but we’re very passionate about what we do,” she said, adding that once she settles into her Esks gear, she starts to come alive.
“As soon as we get started with rehearsal, I get the biggest burst of energy.”
LOTS OF PRACTICE, TRAINING
Aside from the 8-10 hours a week worth of practice and training, each is required to put in 250 to 260 appearances a year at both corporate and charity events.
All members are also required to be enrolled in, or have completed, some kind of post-secondary schooling.
They’re expected to be ambassadors for the team, said Greenough.
“They’re just in and out of the community, whether at seniors homes, hospitals, even runs and walks. It’s something that they’re proud to do,” Greenough said.
“It’s become a really great stepping stone. By the time they leave here, they’re incredibly mature and responsible.”
There are just three games left in the Eskimos’ regular season, one of which will be played at home.
The cheer team will represent Edmonton when they perform at the 100th Grey Cup Festival this year in Toronto as part of the Cheer Extravaganza, which is now in its 15th year.
And rest assured, Greenough says they save the best for last.
“There’s no question we want to go out there and blow everybody away with our seven-minute show.”
MEN CHEER, TOO
The guys of the Esks cheer team are the foundation of the team — literally.
The 16 male members of the team carry much more on their shoulders than the petite ladies they lift in the air — they bare the responsibility of bringing them down safety.
25-year-old Mitchel, who just happens to be the longest standing member of the team with six years experience, says hours and hours of training and upper body work go into the routines.
“To be at the level we’re at, a lot of us are working out 8-10 hours a week, as well as coaching or being on other cheer teams just to progress our skills.”
He says male cheerleaders sometimes get jeered a little bit, but he contests that the sport is just as demanding as any other.
“It takes a lot of skill and strength. It’s one of the more challenging sports I’ve been part of.“
I was never ashamed to be part of the team. Anything that you do, you’re going to have some people who have negative comments.”
Mitchel has been cheering since he was 14, when he was dared to try out for the team at Victoria Composite High School.
He says the attitude towards the sport in general has also changed.
“Since I started with the team, things have kind of grown. Cheerleading is a little more recognized,” he said.
“People realize that we’re volunteers, doing this for the love of the sport. We do it because we love it. We get to be out in the community and give back to those who gave to us.”
COACH IS AN INNOVATOR
There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is one in innovator.
It’s a word many have used to describe Dianne Greenough, the coach of the Edmonton Eskimos cheer team.
The 57-year-old is nearing her 18th year with the team, but her experience and knowledge reaches far beyond Commonwealth Stadium.
Greenough has coached thousands of girls and boys during her 30 some years on the mat, notching more than 200 cheerleading trophies.
Last April, she coached Team Canada to victory, clinching gold at the World Cheerleading Championships.
She’s largely credited with igniting interest in the sport across the province, even pushing the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association to recognize acrobatic cheerleading as an official sport in 1980.
When she joined the Esks Cheer Team as head coach in 1995, she adopted acrobatics into the team’s repertoire, and introduced male members to the squad.
Greenough is a teacher first. She graduated in 1978 from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor’s in Education, and taught at Victoria Composite High School for 35 years before retiring this past June.
“I love to watch the learning and growth. To see them come in usually between the ages of 18 and 20 when they first join the team, they’re young and naive, and just wanting to perform,” she said.
“By the time they’re finished, to see them taking on projects and responsibilities, and just really becoming crucial parts of the community, it’s nice to see.”
DIFFERENT COACHES, DIFFERENT STYLES
Twenty-three year-old Kylee, a four-year Esks cheer veteran, has danced for the majority of her life, and says she’s seen many coaches with many different coaching styles.
But working with a coach as internationally acclaimed as Greenough has been a privilege, she says.
“She’s not only taught us cheerleading, but she’s been a really wonderful mentor.”
Greenough’s teaching style has won her many awards and accolades, including a nod last month when she received the U of A’s Alumni Honour Award, which recognizes the best of the school’s alumni members.
She says the fact a cheerleading coach shared a stage with some of the best academic minds in the country, shows attitudes are changing towards a sport she holds so closely to her heart.
By Anna Borowiecki
St. Albert Gazette
When a Canadian Football League team is undefeated in the rankings, you pretty much have to notice the cheerleaders, right? For one St. Albert resident, having landed a spot on the Edmonton Eskimos cheer squad as a flyer is a dream come true.
Yes, Riley Myck, 18, is the petite brunette on top of the pyramid. She’s the flyer that gets tossed from base to base. She’s the stunter that performs the scorpion standing with one foot on the muscular shoulders of her base. With the grace of a dancer, she grabs the loose foot and bends that leg upward behind her body until it touches the back of her head. Admiration mingled with a collective “ouch” at our own inability sweeps through the crowd.
“I love the adrenalin rush. It’s so empowering. It’s just me up there. I am in control of what I can do and, when I’m up there, it’s just me,” says Myck.
The Bellerose Composite High School grad is part of a mixed cheer squad of 18 dancers and 24 stunters. Coach Dianne Greenough explains that, this year, most of the auditioned cheerleaders are new to the squad, as is Myck. In their selection, Greenough looked at a wide range of elements from talent, experience and personality to their gymnastic abilities and daredevil spirit.
Of Myck, Greenough says, “She’s a natural gymnast and she’s a really hard worker. Her gymnastics abilities, her self-confidence and her maturity are huge. She’s very focused and she soaks up all new information and skills.”
The ability to juggle a school or work schedule, practices, 10 home games and about 200 promotional activities is crucial to a cheerleader’s volunteer role. So far this season, Myck has cheered at Edmonton Rush lacrosse games, the Edmonton Indy and various charity runs for diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
One event that had a lot of impact on Myck was the Capital Ex Monday Morning Magic. It is a program designed to assist handicapped children enjoy the fun of the fair in a safe environment. “They were so full of energy and excitement.”
Born in Drayton Valley, Myck has lived in various parts of the country, including Beaverlodge and St. John’s, N.L., before moving to St. Albert five years ago.
While attending Grade 7 at St. Peter’s Junior High in St. John’s, Myck was introduced to cheerleading. “I’m a bubbly, happy person full of energy and it suited me. It’s hard. I love the challenge and there’s always something new.”
After moving to St. Albert, she enrolled at W.D. Cuts Junior High and joined the competitive cheer team. Her decision to attend Bellerose was again highly motivated by the cheer group. And it paid off. Last year, the physically fit grad was captain of the Bulldogs cheerleading team.
This week, the stunt team gets to strut their stuff at the United States National Stunt Camp and Competition.
“I want to show people I can do things by myself. I’m an independent girl and I’ve worked my butt off. Being with the Edmonton Esks is my paradise and I’m enjoying my reward,” Myck said.
Johnny Campbell, you created a monster.
A high-flying, gravity-defying, move-busting monster.
That’s the only way I can describe the Edmonton Eskimo Cheer Team, which will host the 2010 Grey Cup Cheer Team Extravaganza on Nov. 27.
Campbell is the man credited with inventing modern cheerleading at the University of Minnesota in 1898.
Back then it was an all-male affair known simply as “yell-leading” because, well, that’s all it really was: a bunch of dudes chanting through megaphones at the crowd during football games, trying to get everyone cheering for their team.
According to cheerleading lore, they began performing acrobatic shows during stoppages in play in order to keep fans from wandering outside the stadium to drink.
It wasn’t until the Second World War and a shortage of college-age men that female cheerleaders became commonplace.
My own impression of organized cheering goes back to the decadent, disco- era 1970s, when the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders debuted their skimpy outfits and gyrated like strippers on the sidelines. Like every other teenage boy in North America, I barely noticed the football game going on in the background.
That’s what I was thinking when I crashed a recent Eskimo cheer team practice at Perfect Storm Athletics in the West End.
No sweat, I thought as I strode in. Anything they can do, I can do better. After all, back in my university days, I was a real athlete — one of the guys the cheerleaders were cheering for. How hard can it be to wave a pom-pom, jump around and scream like a girl?
It was then that I noticed a woman flying eight metres into the air, spin around and land delicately into the arms of two male team mates.
Mouth agape, I thought, this is way higher than it looks from the 30th rows up at Commonwealth Stadium.
“It’s a little more work than it looks,” says Dianne Greenough, the team’s coach and owner of Perfect Storm. In fact, she chose the location specifically because of its 30-foot ceilings. “They get up there pretty high.”
The team is divided into two squads: the stunt squad and the dance squad. Most are university students but still devote 10 -15 hours a week to perfecting their moves.
Oh, yeah. I’m ready to show them how it’s done.
My first task was to take >Chelsea, a petite fourth-year economics student at the University of Alberta, and toss her around like a rag doll.
“Are you sure?” I asked her, feeling like a heart surgeon about to perform his first solo.
“Of course,” she said, not a hint of fear in her eyes.
Next thing I knew, Chelsea was standing on my hands, which I held a shoulder height.
On either side of us, several other pairs in the same position were rotating around us like a chorus line.
When she landed safely I was soaked in sweat, some from the effort, most from terror.
“You did great,” Chelsea said kindly as I sobbed with relief.
Next up, the dance team.
When Cheryl, who has her master’s degree in translation and plans a career in the diplomatic corps, informed me that she’s been dancing for more than two decades (which must mean she began in the womb), a tiny whimper escaped me.
I was placed in the middle of the front row and made to perform a series of contortions that included “washing my hair” (I know, I know. I got the irony) and finishing up “sexy” — which couldn’t have been further from truth. It looked more like I was having a seizure.
When the ordeal was finally over, I had a sore back, a throbbing hamstring and a whole new appreciation for cheer teams.
Next time I go to a football game, I’ll ogle their artistry and athleticism.
The Grey Cup Cheer Team Extravaganza, which features seven-minute routines from all eight CFL teams, will be at Grant MacEwan University on Nov. 27.
Doors open at 4 p.m. and the show begins at 5. Tickets at the door are $15.
Profiles and uniform shots for this year’s edition of the Edmonton Eskimos Cheer Team are now online. Click here to read up on the squad!
Pompoms and kicks might be in the past for 50-year-old Judith Ellis. But she’s not letting go of her 1970s heyday cheering for the green and gold.
At Saturday’s Edmonton Eskimos home game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Ellis and about 350 past and present Esks cheerleaders will perform a 60-year reunion show.
“We are going to rise to the occasion no matter how many pounds we’ve gained,” said the spunky Ellis, a cheerleader from 1974 to 1980, now married with two teenage daughters.
Cheerleaders from each decade — 1950s to 2000s — will perform a number at the halftime show.
“We have our old costumes but nobody can fit into them anymore,” said Heather Sheremeta, 43, a cheerleader in 1987 and 1988, now married with three sons.
Former cheer team members and coaches are descending on Edmonton from as far away as Germany and Austria.
A banquet will welcome nearly 500 alumni on Friday evening to reminisce and relive memories with a slide show. A fashion show will also feature the former Eskimo cheer uniforms.
“So much has happened. We are able to share this with each other,” said Ellis.
Doctors told Ellis she would never walk again after a driver ran a red light and T-boned her station wagon in north Edmonton in 2001. Ellis broke her lower back in two places.
Now she’s back to dancing her heart out.
Head cheer team coach Diane Greenough, who’s coached Esks cheerleaders for 14 years, said the experience promises to be nostalgic.
“I’ve known some of these girls since they were 14. It’s been really special.”
From The Canadian Press
Sandy Topechka misses the adrenalin rush of the 1980s, running out onto the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium to lead the Edmonton Eskimo crowd in cheers – but she doesn’t miss Novembers.
It was never warm enough, said Topechka, who was dressed in the velour green jumpsuit of the era at a news conference Monday to announce a 60-year reunion of Eskimo cheerleaders.
“Not when it was -30 C. We had little angora gloves and leg warmers and ear muffs, but it was still really, really cold.”
Still, Topehcka said the three years she spent shaking pompoms for the Green and Gold were the best of times.
“The minute you came on the field, the rush, the adrenalin, the fans cheering, singing ‘O Canada.’
“Going to the Grey Cup in ‘83 was the best.”
Eskimos Cheer Team Alumni Sandy Topechka
Topechka was among 30 Eskimo cheer alumni on hand at Commonwealth Stadium.
On Sept. 26, at halftime of the home game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, representatives from six decades of Eskimo cheerleading will perform to mark the diamond anniversary.
Irene Federuk was there from the beginning. The silver-haired octogenarian said she was recruited in the early ’50s to put together a majorette corps.
“All we did was the batons,” laughed Federuk, who said she signed on because she couldn’t think of a good reason to say no.
“It sounded like it would be great fun. I was only in there for two years but I really had fun.”
The team -dressed then in skirts, cowboy hats and sweaters emblazoned with a serif letter E – morphed from majorettes to cheerleaders by the mid ’50s, said Dianne Greenough, the current head coach.
The ’60s brought in Twiggy-esque green capes and skirts, followed by a lot more skin, satin and thigh-high boots in the disco days of the 1970s and early ’80s.
Three-year veteran Amanda R.
By the late ’80s, the acrobatic and stunt teams featuring co-ed cheerleaders took over, which has endured to the present day.
“The men hit sidelines, first in spandex – which did not go over well at all – and we will not ever be sampling that one (again),” laughed Greenough.
She said the current Eskimo squad is split into a dance team and stunt team, often travelling south of the border to compete in competitions and “show the U.S. that Canada has the athleticism and the moves.”
Amanda Ross, a member of the current team, said the reunion has been an eye-opener.
“Sometimes we don’t realize where we come from and how amazing they were back then,” said Ross, adding she’s partial to the ’60s uniform with the shimmering material and the cape.
“They’re more acrobatic,” said Topechka of the current squad.
“Definitely the stunting has grown a lot. It’s a lot more physical. We did more dancing back then, and now it’s more gymnastics.”
Topechka said something was lost, though, when the high boots of the ’80s were traded in for sneakers.
“To me it lost some of the glamour.”