WAKE FOREST – Three cheerleaders from North Carolina will compete for the US National Junior Co-Ed Team for US Cheer at the Pan American Cheerleading Championship and all three of them are from the local area.
Emery Parades, 17, is from Wake Forest, Hannah Page, 15, is from Raleigh and Mattea Kane, 15, is from Rolesville. This will be their first time competing at the international level when they travel to Santiago, Chile for the cheerleading championships held Sept. 27-Oct. 2.
Parades, who has been cheerleading for five years, said he is excited about the opportunity mainly because of the cultural aspect of the trip to Chile.
“I’m a little nervous, but I’m mostly excited,” Parades said. “I want to experience being in a Latin setting because my father is from the Dominican Republic and my mother is from Cuba. I haven’t been around my culture much, so going to Chile will be really cool to experience.
Both Page and Kane have been cheerleading together since they were six years old. It was how they originally met and became friends. After nine years of competing in tournaments, the two girls will represent the United States at the international level.
“Our coach told us we had a chance to do it, so we got really excited,” Kane said. “Then he told us all at the same time through a group chat, so we’re all even more excited.”
The three cheerleaders are part of a team made up of 23 junior athletes from all over the country. Most of them live near the Chicago area, where the US team practices every weekend for three days from 9 am to 5 pm. Since the end of July, the cheerleaders have been training under head coach Jaren Erlenbaugh to prepare for the upcoming competition.
Erlenbaugh has been coaching the team since 2019, but this will be his first time in international competition. He gave great remarks about all three of the cheerleaders from North Carolina.
For Parade, Erlenbaugh said he brings athleticism and leadership to the squad.
“Emery is a great athletic young man who offers power and dribbling ability,” Erlenbaugh said. “He’s a good kid, super funny and an emotional leader to help pump up the other kids.”
For Kane, Erlenbaugh considered his talent and gift for forming team chemistry with other players.
“Mattea brings a ton of great execution and experience to the table,” Erlenbaugh said. “She’s a great athlete with tumbling ability and she’s a good communicator. She’s ahead of her years in terms of talent.
For Page, Erlenbaugh noted the versatility she brings to the team.
“Hannah is a strong girl who gives us a lot of options,” Erlenbaugh said. “We are happy to have her on the team.”
This cheerleading competition in Chile is historic in many ways for the United States. This is the first international junior championship in the history of the sport and will field future superstars as cheerleading debuts as a sport at the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Parades said that this year’s competition will increase the sport of cheerleading all over the world and make it more famous, especially more male athletes like himself.
“Cheerleading is often looked down upon because we cheer for other sports,” Parades said. “Competitive cheerleading is hard. Being a male cheerleader is looked down upon, so you have to push through it and train to get better. It should be recognized as a sport because we train, we have a routine and we compete against different countries.
The US cheer team is already in good shape to compete internationally. The International Cheer Union was in Orlando, Florida this past April with 54 countries participating in the event. Kane and Page were part of the Junior National co-ed team that won gold medals for their performance. Thailand won silver and Finland bronze.
The standard is set high for the United States, but Erlenbaugh said his cheerleaders are up to the challenge.
“The United States invented what cheerleading is, so every time we put our product out, we expect gold medals,” Erlenbaugh said. “Since this is our first time as a team competing in an international event, we want to have a wonderful experience and represent our country with our character, integrity and sportsmanship.”
Kane and Page used their cheerleading influence to partner with Take Flight, a non-profit that promotes anti-bullying among the cheerleading community. The two girls have been helping with this organization for the past few months to strengthen the mental health of cheerleaders of all ages and genders.
“We work with other gyms to promote anti-bullying to improve mental health among gymnasts and cheerleaders,” Page said. “Instead of tearing people down, we want to build each other up.”
“There’s a lot of mental health involved in the sport of cheerleading,” Kane said. “Since the end of May, Take Flight has done a great job promoting encouragement in gyms.”
To get ready for the upcoming championship, Parades, Page and Kane have been training together at the Open Gym in Raleigh when they are not in Chicago with the other members of the national team.
“We worked on a lot of conditioning,” Parades said. “Our coach wants us to focus on talking to the other teammates. He wants us all to come together and hype each other up. We talk about things we can work on and things we can improve on so that the next routine will be better is as before.
Kane added that because the national team is spread across the country, it is difficult to train together in person.
“We only have a few weekends together as a team,” Kane said. “We make sure to have a good bonding time when we’re together.”
Page also said that staying healthy is important as the team has to prepare for anything in the coming months.
“Our coach tells us to take care of each other because we only have three alternatives,” said Page. “We can’t afford to get hurt, so we have to take care of our bodies and stay healthy.”
The Pan American Championship in Chile will be one of the biggest cheerleading competitions in world history. Erlenbaugh said he hopes his cheerleaders have a great experience no matter what happens in September.
“We want to win, but we want to make sure the kids enjoy the experience,” Erlenbaugh said. “If they don’t want to, it doesn’t mean they’ve failed. It just means they have to try harder next time.
This international competition has huge implications for the sport of cheerleading worldwide. Kane said she is looking forward to making history with her fellow cheerleaders in Chile.
“We’re the first junior cheerleading team in the history of the country to do this, so that makes me a little nervous,” Kane said. “Overall, I’m still excited.”