Sault Ste. Marie has always been a hidden gem on the geographic map, but when it comes to the sport of cheerleading, Tara Slumskie says you can barely find it on the so-called athletic map.
The second-year head coach of the Sault College Cougars cheerleading team is determined to catapult the sport into prominence and the first step toward getting there is getting the word out.
“This is my second year coaching the team,” Slumskie said. “I was on the college team for four years and before that cheered recreationally at the YMCA so it’s always been a passion of mine.
“I feel it’s so unrecognized and I’m always looking for ways to get the word out and attract new team members.”
And unlike so many other sports where talent often trumps desire, Slumskie says all you really need to try out for her squad is a little bit of desire and a willingness to learn.
“Every practice we do conditioning stuff and it’s amazing where people are from the time we start until the time the season’s over,” she said. “We have workouts, full body stuff and everybody is usually in shape by the end. It’s funny because some of our team members can only do one pushup at the beginning of the season and by the end they’re doing 30 and I feel a lot of the girls gain so much more confidence doing this.
“Not only is it nice being a part of a team and being given a chance to go out and compete, but you suddenly discover you can do things you didn’t think you could do.”
And more importantly is the fact they get to do those things in front of crowds. Aside from the team’s one major competition a year, usually in southern Ontario, the Cougars cheerleading team is blessed to be able to perform for crowds during many of the Cougars varsity games. They do basketball half time shows, chuck a puck for the men’s hockey games and last year held their first homecoming event during the Cougars home openers in soccer.
“We get opportunities to support our school while being our own individual sport as well which is really nice,” Slumskie said.
For the cheerleading squad, the season is long, but it offers the men and women on the squad a venue to get into shape. They begin workouts in September and run through until February, during which they often work out twice a week. Their one big competition is the provincials and that’s where they get to test their skills against the rest of the province.
“When we go away, it’s one routine we do for two minutes and 30 seconds so you work out all year for that one shot to show people what you can do. The routine usually involves stunting where girls are tossed high in the air and then there’s elements such as dance and tumbling. There’s a gymnastics element to it with flips and stuff but not everyone has to do that part of it.”
She said the ideal number of team members is between 20-25 but last year they only had 18 athletes.
"COVID has thrown a wrench into our season,” Slumskie said. “I don’t have a set number of individuals, but because of the way the sport is we can distance while training.
“Right now because we’re a smaller school and because not many people know about the sport, we just want people to come out. There’s no experience required to be on the college team and at this time our team has to be Sault College students.
“I would just love for people to look into our sport a little more and to spark interest in people who never considered it. Male’s are also on the team. You don’t need experience to try out for the team, we teach everything from the ground up.”