It is unclear when cheerleading actually started in Manitoba. Ruth Hallonquist, known for her contributions to cheerleading in Manitoba over the years recalls how the sport has grown in to what it is today. Hallonquist says cheerleading was already going strong in the 1970s.
“I can remember kids crying because they didn’t make the team,” says Hallonquist. “It was a really big deal back then.”
Cheerleading died off for a while after that. Hallonquist says she really doesn’t know what happened, people were just not into it the way they were before. She recalls a problem with negative coaches, and nothing getting done.
“Girls were complaining because we had a lack of good coaches,” says Hallonquist. “I remember hearing about coaches who spent more time talking about their own lives and problems than getting involved with the girls. Many girls were getting frustrated.”
“Jean Walker kept it going at Westwood Collegiate,” says Hallonquist. “I’m not sure what was going on elsewhere in the city, but I remember there was serious competition between Westwood and John Taylor Collegiate.”
Cheerleaders today may recognize Jean Walker because one team is recognized every year with the Jean Walker Incentive Award. This award is given out to the team who has come out to every competition, has not won, but has showed great sportsmanship and effort.
“Jean really pushed cheerleading and her Westwood squad won it’s battle against John Taylor many times,” says Hallonquist.
During the 1984 –1985 season, cheerleaders from Sturgeon Creek really got into the battle.
“I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but the Sturgeon girls were really rough,” laughs Hallonquist.
The competition got so serious that a former cheerleader from Westwood Collegiate remembers being threatened by cheerleaders from Sturgeon Creek. This prompted Hallonquist to try to get a better name for the girls.
“I went to Sturgeon Creek to talk to the girls,” says Hallonquist. “I never left.”
Hallonquist says, from that time on, cheerleading became her life. Her children had grown up and were in school, so these girls became her second family.
“We didn’t do well at these competitions,” says Hallonquist, “but the girls learned a lot.”
At this time, the teams from St. Thomas were some of the top teams in Ontario. Hallonquist remembers billeting with families from St. Thomas.
“It was very exciting,” says Hallonquist. “The girls from St. Thomas would teach our girls how to stunt while they were billeting.”
As stunting became more incorporated in cheerleading, safety issues also became more of a concern.
“I remember the girls cheerleading in those cheap tennis shoes,” says Hallonquist. “I really don’t know how we did it for all those years.”
Hallonquist says they learned about proper clothing and shoes while they traveled. Any cheerleader today knows the importance of proper athletic wear and supportive running shoes.
“It was because we were able to travel that cheerleading really began to grow,” says Hallonquist. “Other teams began to travel and learn during this time.”
Many teams traveled down to the Bemidji Cheerleading Camp in the United States. Here girls learned a lot more about stunting which really increased the levels of competition.
“Everyone wanted to do better,” recalls Hallonquist. “It was great because it really improved their attitudes.”
Hallonquist says this was the start of getting to where we are today. Girls weren’t just jumping around and singing cheers, they were doing stunts that required strength and performing routines that required endurance. She remembers pushing the schools to see cheerleading as an athletic sport with serious competition,
“We wanted everyone to see that cheerleading girls were not fluff balls, they were athletes.”
This new level of cheerleading was getting more attention, but Hallonquist says teams were still just doing their own thing.
“There were many teams in St. James, but other teams were forming all over the city,” says Hallonquist. “The sport needed something to pull it together.”
Hallonquist was not the only one noticing this problem. Cheerleading veteran Toby Decker also noticed this problem. She also felt the sport needed some solid rules and regulations, and she pushed it.
Decker, with the help of others, created the Manitoba Association of Cheerleading in 1986. This non- profit organization would oversee the sport of cheerleading in Manitoba by implementing rules and regulations. Members worked as an organization to pull teams in the province together.
In recent years, cheerleading in Manitoba has become so large that people can’t help but take notice. Stunting has grown to the point where M.A.C. has had to set limits on what stunts teams can perform because of safety precautions. Teams from Manitoba have traveled and been successful at competitions all over Canada and the United States.
Today, cheerleading is a popular sport for both males and females. With more guys getting involved stunts are bigger and more exciting, making the sport more exciting every year.
Competitions today draw the largest audiences of any school sport. Not many sports offer people such an entertaining mixture of dance, stunts, gymnastics, and, of course, cheer. The Provincial competition was recently extended to a two-day event because of the amount of teams entering. High schools, junior high schools, and even some elementary schools make up over 30 teams competing in Manitoba today.
Aside from regulating the sport, M.A.C. works to help new teams start, train new coaches and judges, organize camps, and promote cheerleading as a growing sport in Manitoba.
We’ve come along way since the days of girls jumping around on the sidelines. One can only imagine what the future holds. Cheerleaders are here to stay, and as any flyer will agree, the sky’s the limit!