"Line up shortest to tallest.” This is how most team practices will set up stunt groups at the start of the cheerleading season. The tallest athletes will be assigned as ‘thirds’ or ‘backspots’ to support the stunts from the back due to their high reach. The shortest, sometimes smallest, athletes are typically assigned the roles of ‘tops’ or flyers.
Mid-size athletes are assigned the roles as ‘bases’ and they are the ones who are supporting the stunts, tossing the flyers, or lifting the tops to create pyramid structures. Coaches like to make basing pairs with two athletes of similar heights so the tops are balanced.
A competitive cheerleading routine contains the essential elements of the sport: tumbling, stunting/acrobatics, jumps and dance. Stunting is the general name used in cheerleading for lifting athletes off the floor. A stunt group of three to five people would have only one top and that top is being lifted independently and not touching other athletes once up in the air. A larger structure where the tops are connected with arm and leg connections amongst the tops is called a pyramid. A pyramid is usually two people high, but experienced athletes in Level 7 defy gravity with pyramids three people high.
The entire sport of cheerleading has been defined into six levels of difficulty, which create rules for how high athletes can be lifted or tossed. For example, in years past, level five was limited to pyramids two people high. Starting in 2019, level seven has been created to allow for safer skill progression throughout an athlete’s career in the sport.
I decided to write this weekly column to share the interesting history of the sport of cheerleading and also to share current information about the sport. While photos of pyramids are great static moments in the sport, it is more interesting to watch cheerleading videos on youtube to see how the pyramid structures are built and dismantled, all with precisely choreographed grips and body positions for all team members.