More than just a bunch of Pom Poms

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Cheerleading as many know is a group activity where the participants aka cheerleaders cheer for their team, generally in sports, as a form of encouragement. This physically intense activity contains chanting, dancing and acrobatic routines such as tumbling, jumps and stunts.

The sport originated in the United States and became popular in the early 2000’s after ESPN’s broadcasting of the International Cheerleading competition in 1997 and the release of the Bring It On movies which were a massive hit in popular culture.

Organised cheer can be dated back to as early as 1877 and November 2, 1898 was when cheerleading was born at the University of Minnesota, USA.

It may come as a surprise to many ( it sure did for us!) that cheerleading started out as an all male activity. Women were first permitted to join cheerleading teams in 1923 only.

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As erasmus students here in Budapest we were surprised to see that our exchange university, the University of ELTE offered not just cheerleading as a extracurricular activity but also as a course with credits. It was our first time hearing of cheerleading being so popular outside of the US. We were intrigued to learn more.

The first Cheerleading team in Budapest was established in 2009 at Eotvos Lorand University and they call themselves ELTE Cheerleaders. They are the most prominent and successful cheer team in the country and made the sport trendy in Hungary. Other popular Cheerleading teams in Budapest include the Budapest Wolves Cheerleaders, who represent Budapest’s American Football team of the same name, and the Corvinus Cheerleaders of Corvinus University of Budapest. We spoke to members and coaches of all three clubs to get a better feel of what cheerleading means in Hungary’s capital.

ELTE Cheerleaders

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The ELTE cheerleading team was founded in 2009 by Rita Kovacsi. The team started out with only six members but this number increased on a massive scale. Today ELTE cheerleaders boast a massive membership of almost 200 active athletes. At the beginning there where only female cheerleaders on the team and they only did dance. In 2012 they added a cheerleading team next to the cheer dance team. That’s when male cheerleaders started to join.

In the last couple of years the ELTE cheerleaders have taken part in many events including both national and international competitions and with their achievements, they are at the forefront of Europe. Rita Kovácsi and Miklós Mátyás, who are the coaches of ELTE cheerleaders, won the European Open tournament in Paris in September 2015 at 4th place and the 2nd place in the European Championships as a partner stunt.

In April 2016 the cheer dance team of ELTE represented Hungary for the first time on the World Championships in Orlando in the United States. The girls landed on 15th place, a brilliant achievement.

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The team’s’ biggest achievements thus far were obtained during the European Championships in 2016. The ELTE cheerleading team qualified for six continents in six categories. The ELTE Coed team ended in second place and the ELTE Coed Group in third place.

Besides these international achievements, the team has won a couple of Hungarian championship titles in the past few years.

With so many achievements in the bag, ELTE cheerleaders coach says there’s one thing he’s most proud of.

“What I’m most proud of is the community we built here.We’re not just a bunch of athletes who are coming down to practice. We are a real family, we are a real community!” he says.

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ELTE cheerleader Katalin Gay shared the same sentiment saying: “ What I like the most about it is feeling so connected to the others and putting your life in their hands”.

Budapest Wolves

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The Budapest Wolves cheerleading team, which represents the Budapest Wolves football team was founded in April 2011. They are a dancing team, opposed to gymnastics team. Their task is to cheer up the crowd during football games and give a performance during halftime.

Their goal is to involve as many young people as possible in the regular movement, dance, acrobatics and cheerleading worlds.

“Anyone can join, but typically its girls because its cheer dancing rather than acrobatics!” Budapest Wolves Cheerleaders coach Petra Olah.

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Corvinus University of Budapest is the only other University in Budapest with its own dedicated cheerleading team, and they call themselves the Corvinus Cheerleaders. Corvinus cheerleaders are one of the youngest teams established in Budapest. They were founded in April 2016 by Franciska Selmenczi, who is their current coach.

With currently 20 active members and ten new additions to the team this year it has been Corvinus Cheerleaders fasted growing year thus far.

“In my sight, it’s a huge favor to represent our University in the sporting life of Hungary and Budapest,” Corvinus Cheerleader Coach Franciska Selmenczi tells us. “ Most of the students and teachers know us, and respect what we do for our institutions’ sport and social life.”

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The team similar to ELTE Cheerleaders and the Budapest Wolves have training twice a week and sometimes even on the weekends on the run-up for big events and competitions.

They perform for both their own university’s events but will also happily accept other invitations too.

“Cheerleading becomes more and more popular in our country and in Budapest,” Franciska tells us when asked about the status of cheerleading in Budapest. “There are several teams and more people who know and respect our sport, and they really enjoy our performances. We also have members, who came to a university in Budapest because of our cheer team,” she adds.

We spoke to student Antal Vass  who is part of the team and she said: “ it’s a really engaging and fun kind of physical education where you can develop your physical condition and team working skills as you must work tightly together with the others to achieve the results expected.”

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All of the teams we spoke to and the rest of Hungary’s Cheerleading clubs belong under the umbrella organisation the Hungarian Cheer Union, which itself is governed by the European Cheer Union.

Budapest Cheerleading teams have come a long way since their beginnings and have made great strides in both the national and international cheerleading scene. Around 500 people are involved in cheerleading in the small country of Hungary today and there are currently 15 different clubs around the country! The sport cheerleading itself is taking not just Hungary but the whole world by storm too and in 2016 cheerleading was officially declared an Olympic sport. 

With so many accomplishments cheerleader athletes still have to fight hard to be respected as a sport and ELTE cheerleaders Coach Matyas Miklos puts it so well: “a lot of people think that cheerleading is equivalent to pom moms. We’ll use poms as a prop to enhance our cheer section or our sidelines or our dance section. But we are not a bunch of people with poms”

Competitions that cheerleaders in Budapest take part in regularly include the national competitions the Hungarian Championship, Santas Cheer Cup and more, and many of Budapest’s cheerleaders are also on the Hungarian National team and have contended at international leagues such as the European Championship and the World Championship.

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If you would like to try your hand at Cheerleading yourself make sure to get in touch with the coaches at either ELTE Cheerleaders (rita.kovacsik@hotmail.com or Facebook: @eltecheerteam) or better yet just come along to practice, Corvinus Cheerleaders (corvinuscheerleaders@gmail.com or Facebook: @corvinuscheerleaders), and if you are not a student and would like to take part contact Budapest Wolves Cheerleaders (bpwolvescheer@gmail.com or Facebook: @Budapestwolvescheerleadersofficial )

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