The Price of Cheer: Valley Cheerleading Teams Face Increasing Costs

“There’s only so many bake sales you can run at the same time,” Luray cheerleading coach Kayla McPherson sighs, with an exasperated sort of tone in her voice, while sitting on the floor of the Luray Elementary School gym.

It’s after 6 p.m. and her practice is wrapping up. Teenage girls in loose clothes are scurrying around, ripping up a series of soft, black mats and placing them back where they belong, up against the wall on the side of the old, wooden gymnasium.

This is where Luray’s championship cheerleading team practices, and don’t let the dusty venue fool you —fielding this team is not cheap.

Like most other sports, sustaining high-level success in competition cheerleading takes a lot of money. However, comp. cheerleading faces unique challenges that other sports simply don’t have to navigate. These problems are compounded by the fact that cheerleading is generally a lower-profile sport that doesn’t have access to the revenue that other sports like football or basketball might earn.

Costs for cheerleading start piling up early in the off-season, when prospective cheerleaders enroll in classes and camps to improve fundamental skills, like tumbling. Classes might run $50 per kid, per month; camps could be another $25 per kid.

Before the season starts, the dollar amounts tick way up. Teams must pay outside choreographers hundreds of dollars to scheme up a dance routine for the team to use during competitions; teams must also pay a hefty licensing fee for the music that dance routines are set to.

Because of the growing popularity of cheerleading, the costs associated with those services are quickly trending up. This year, for instance, the LHS comp. cheer team paid $1,300 for choreography and another $650 in licensing fees.

Once the actual season starts, team practices are free. But if a school wants to field a competitive squad, it’s not enough to just practice in a gym — it needs to go head-to-head against other schools in invitational competitions.

“If you’re not competing against other teams, if you’re not doing those things, you’re probably not going to be successful,” said Luray Athletic Director Don Ehlers.

Unsurprisingly, though, there’s a price tag associated with invitational meets. Invitational fees can easily run in excess of $200 per event. An average school might attend five or six invitationals over the course of the relatively short fall season.

Those, too, are spiking in cost. Luray

was on the hook for $275 for one particular competition this fall.

“That was the most expensive invitational I’ve seen in eight years,” McPherson said.

There’s also the cost of the equipment that teams use to safely practice. Those comfy-looking mats that the LHS team puts away at the end of practice? Ring up another $6,000. Tumbling equipment? Half a grand. There’s plenty of other teaching aids, too.

All of these items and services need to be purchased and/or upkept for a team to remain competitive. But for small communities like Page and Luray, revenue is hard to come by.

Because there are no “home games” in cheerleading like there are in other sports, there’s no real gate revenue to boost the team’s financial standing. No gate money generally leads to minimal financial support from school booster clubs, as it’s difficult to divert money out for a team that isn’t bringing money in.

That often leaves teams fending for themselves, even for basic necessities like uniforms and props. At Luray, cheer uniforms are “out of rotation,” meaning the school doesn’t supply the funds for them to be purchased. The cheerleaders must pay for their uniforms with funds they raise themselves.

And you can only run so many bake sales at one time.

McPherson is hoping to get new uniforms for next year’s squad, but at $240 per uniform, that could be a tall task.

“New uniforms aren’t a matter of want, at this point,” McPherson said. “They’re a matter of need.”

As a result of all this, both large companies and small studio business are raking in big bucks on the backs of cheer teams. Demand for high-quality dance moves, props, safety equipment and uniforms is skyrocketing.

“There’s got to be a way for [the VHSL] to make this cheaper,” Ehlers said. “I wish there was a way to reign things in a bit.”

Things may be about to change with the VHSL, but it won’t necessarily be for the better. According to McPherson, the League appears to be pushing local cheerleading toward an alignment with the Universal Cheerleader’s Association , or UCA.

Right now, it’s impossible to predict how exactly an additional association will affect teams’ bottoms lines, but one place to start may be the uniforms. Varsity, the company that already makes Luray’s uniforms, is an official partner of UCA.

The VHSL is already pushing for more traditional uniform designs, featuring less glitz and rhinestones. Page’s current uniforms might be considered more traditional, as the design is very clean.

Regardless of the design of the uniforms, one thing remains clear for small schools like PCHS and LHS — without major changes to the fabric of competition cheerleading, they’ll need to continue to fundraise heavily if they want continue to find success at the regional and state level.

On top of everything else already going on, though, bankrolling a team can be exhausting.

“It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to continuously fundraise,” McPherson said. “We kind of use this as a life lesson for the girls. You know, life’s not fair. That sort of thing. But that doesn’t make all this any less hard.”

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