Finding Nemo on the Cheerleading Team

Ashley Carey

Amid the cornucopia of team sports offered at Glendale College, its award-winning cheer team is a hidden gem.

The Beach Boys once wrote, “be true to your school.” This spirited sentiment resounds in the creed of the Vaquero cheerleading squad.

“Being a cheerleader, you’re not just out there to go and do a routine,” said squad member Kevin-Anthony “Nemo” Zelaya. “You’re out there to go and promote your school. The most important thing is school spirit.”

Zelaya is one of several males on the squad. With experience in sports like football and baseball, he says that cheerleading is the most physically demanding sport he has ever been a part of.

“This is unlike any other sport,” he said, wiping his sweat-covered brow. “It’s one team, one cohesive routine, and that’s it.”

Donning practice attire, the girls look like several variations of a workout Barbie. But their range of movement and physical abilities are something with which no Barbie doll could compete.

Smiling proudly with one hand on his hip, Zelaya suspends both feet of a girl in the palm of his outstretched hand. When the girl jumps to descend, so does Zelaya to catch her. Like most of his teammates, Zelaya majors in kinesiology, which is the science of human movement.

“I can’t say I know a cheerleader that isn’t majoring in kinesiology,” he said.

Zelaya’s plan is to graduate from GCC and go on to the University of Alabama, the school with the nation’s top cheerleading team.

“I actually just wanna be a sports physical therapist,” he said.

It’s not uncommon for an outsider to underestimate the challenge of cheerleading. Some stigma still exists in the way people perceive the sport, but things are looking up.

“Whenever I have someone tell me, ‘Hey, I see cheerleaders, and they’re just skirts and cheers on the sideline,’ I show them a little bit of the stuff I can do, and a little bit of the stuff my buddies can do,” Zelaya said.

Organizations like the Universal Cheerleader’s Association and the National Cheerleader’s Association, together with ESPN, broadcaster of the national competition, are doing their part to represent the plight of cheerleaders as hard-working athletes.

The Glendale cheer squad has been featured in movies such as Bring It On, and in several nationally-broadcast television commercials.

The team returned in March from the Universal Cheerleader’s Association championship in Orlando, Fla., where they placed 8th in Small Coed Division II.

“We will be back this year, and we’ll be bringing back a national championship banner for the gym here,” he said.

Zelaya’s advice those who might be interested in the sport? Just try it.

“If you wanna be a part of Glendale College cheer, just come out. I have respect and complete admiration for anyone who tries to do what we do,” he said. “If you can put on some shoes, and you have that want to go out there, then you’re a cheerleader in my book.”