A Redding mother is starting a cheerleading organization that puts the spotlight on that sport and only that sport.
This is the second week of training for the brand-new Redding-Easton Falcons Cheerleading Association, Inc., a nonprofit, competition team.
Several months ago, Redding resident Leila Herrman, along with other parents in her community, identified a desire to create a cheerleading-only organization that’s not combined with other sports — and set about to make it happen.
They formed in March and to date, have enrolled more than 80 children.
“Competition cheer is very different from sideline cheer,” said Herrman, 41, who is founder and president of the organization, and head coach of one of its teams.
She explained that when a cheer team is combined with a sport, “it’s an extra thing that comes along with a football game.”
“Our mission and vision is to provide an organization that is fully focused on cheerleading as its own independent, competitive sport,” Herrman said. “We focus on the cheerleader as the athlete.”
A cheer-only program is not a new concept, according to Herrman. “There are other cities that also have separate football and cheer programs,” she said.
“We have four teams this year who will be practicing in Redding and Easton, as well as in private gyms in the local area,” Herrman said.
The teams are made up of first- through eighth-graders, and are divided by age. They are open to both boys and girls in Redding and Easton. There are also children from surrounding towns such as Weston and Newtown on the teams. There are no tryouts.
Herrman’s three daughters — twins Carmindy and Savannah, 12, and Naiomi, 9 — are cheerleaders in the association.
Practices are several days a week. Coaches and student demonstrators make up the routines, which are set to music. There are no cheers.
There will be many opportunities for competition for the children, according to Herrman.
“Competition, that’s the big thing,” Herrman said. The first competition is the CT Youth Spirit Conference on Oct. 13 at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, where the children will compete against teams from Bridgeport, Danbury and Ansonia.
If they qualify, they’ll move onto the state competition, then regionals and, if they continue placing, they’ll compete in nationals in Florida in December.
Cheerleaders are judged on tumbling, jumps, dance, motions, and overall energy and crowd appeal. Judges are nationally certified.
The cheerleaders are of varying abilities.
“That’s the beauty of something like this. I am a believer that all children have something that makes them special and has them stand out in some way that is a skill or asset in our community,” Herrman said. “I feel the same for cheerleading. You may not have a child that is the most coordinated, but [he or she] has a big, beautiful smile. Energy and enthusiasm are really important in this sport as well. It’s up to us as coaches to figure out what is that shining star and how to incorporate that into the routine.”
Herrman said she hopes the association will become a feeder program into high school cheerleading.
Aside from competing, cheerleaders perform at community service events and get involved in the towns in which they live.
This spring, they participated in the Redding Rid Litter Day cleanup, performed at the Mark Twain Library’s Frog Frolic, and marched in both the Easton and Redding Memorial Day parades.
“We will be doing four community service projects throughout the cheerleading season,” Herrman said. One of these is garden and weeding beautification at the local schools.
To get the program started, the team had to raise funds and get sponsors.
“We had to buy all new uniforms, pay for coaches’ training, and rent cheer mats, professional music, fields and indoor space,” Herrman said.
There is a board with officers, coaches, Joel Barlow High School students and cheerleaders, as well as parents who help out in the association. Everyone is a volunteer.
“There is a solid group of 10 heavily involved individuals,” Herrman said. “Our v.p. of operations and cheer commissioner have put in hundreds of hours to get us to this inaugural season and we couldn’t do this without them.”
Herrman said her role as coach parallels her full-time job as director of proposal strategy at American Express.
“In both roles, I’m leading others and determining what each person’s assets are, and how you leverage that to meet the goals of the business,” she said. “But I’m also working to keep them satisfied and eager to come to work every day.”
Cheerleading is growing as a competitive sport, Herrman said.
The International Cheer Union was given provisional recognition in the Olympics for three years, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It is now able to receive funding from the IOC and can apply for development programs.
It’s all about self-confidence, Herrman said. “We want to push the children to do things they never thought they would be able to do, in a really fun and inclusive environment.”
She said the whole sense of “team” is highly valued in the association.
“People refer to it as your cheer family,” Herrman said. “It’s not just as a sport. It’s something that becomes an integral part of your life.”
Recruiting for next season will begin in April 2019. For more information, visit falconsyouthcheer.com.
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to correct a misspelling of Leila Herrman’s name and to delete an incorrect statement about a past cheering squad.