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CYRENS

 

WHEN Jaymee Tan first started coaching the Cyrens cheerleading squad in 2010, they had placed 21st out of over 30 teams at CHEER, Malaysia’s biggest cheerleading competition. The very next year, they were the champions of Malaysian cheerleading, a title they’ve held ever since.

Just two weeks ago, the Cyrens, who represent SM Sri Kuala Lumpur, won their record-extending seventh CHEER champions’ trophy, making them the most successful team the country has ever seen, and arguably its greatest.

The team now boasts some incredible young athletes. They might still be teenagers, but every time they perform, they leave people awestruck with their acrobatic stunts and perfectly choreographed routines.

But that wasn’t always the case, according to Tan.

“When the Cyrens first started out, there wasn’t much of a support system or proper structure in place,” she said. “The girls were talented, no doubt, but cheerleading was still a new thing back then.”

She got started on whipping them into shape. Within weeks, the squad of 21 girls had dropped to just 12 because they couldn’t handle her gruelling training routines.

“But it didn’t matter, because those 12 were really committed and disciplined. So I trained them up anyway and they did really well for their school’s sports day performance, and that attracted three more girls to join, so we had 15, and we brought those 15 to competition. And they won!”

That was seven championships ago. Now everyone in Sri KL – and the wider Malaysian cheerleading scene – knows that if you want to be part of the Cyrens, you’d better be willing to work insanely hard. And you’d better be good.

The Cyrens train four days a week, all year long, doing strength exercises you’d expect more from military bootcamps than secondary school cheerleading practice.

Related story: Red.fm’s JJ gets smashed doing the Cyrens’ workout routine

They do a combination of spine rolls, sit-ups, squat jumps, banana rocking, back raises, push-ups, high knees, leg kicks and sprints for two-and-a-half hours; and that’s not even including their performance rehearsals, where they practice all their high-flying stunts.

“It’s definitely difficult for first-timers,” said Cassandra Yang, the Cyrens’ captain for 2016. “Most people aren’t used to that level of intensity and I’ve seen people struggle because they’ve never done anything this hardcore before.”

Caityin Tania Dean, 16, hates jump squats the most. “Every time we do it, my legs feel like they’re going to fall off.”

Hold it – The Cyrens demonstrating one of the exercises they do to strengthen their core and thigh muscles.

Hold it – The Cyrens demonstrating one of the exercises they do to strengthen their core and thigh muscles.

If the girls train like soldiers, then Tan is their drill sergeant, and she has a zero-tolerance policy on complacency or sluggishness.

“I’m very big on efficiency,” said Tan, a former competitive cheerleader herself. “Moving fast so you can get more done in the same amount of training time is something I constantly emphasise.”

The team’s attitude towards training wasn’t the only thing that changed in 2010. After they won that first trophy, the school’s administration began to pay more attention to the Cyrens, according to Joanna Johan John, the teacher in charge of the Cyrens.

Related story: Cyrens suffer injury setback

“The school began cultivating this culture of support, holding events where parents and the other students would come and watch videos and demonstrations from the cheerleaders, listen to the coach’s speeches and mingle with each other,” said Tan.

“Events like that help everyone become more supportive and understand the sport better. And when people understand something better, they feel more emotionally invested.”

To get the entire school hyped up for CHEER each year, there’s the traditional promise of a holiday the day after every win. No surprise then, that the supporters of the Cyrens and their junior sister team, Rayvens, have won the CHEER Best Supporters Award almost every since 2010 (they missed out in 2011).

Their supporters arrive at CHEER every year by the busloads and, in true cheerleading spirit, make it a point to cheer and support even the Cyrens and Rayvens’ biggest rivals.

“They have their own Whatsapp group,” said Yang, with an embarrassed smile that belied just a hint of pride.

Scars in action: This year during CHEER 2016, SCARS took up entire chunks of the audience, cheering not only for Cyrens and Rayvens, but all teams who participated.

Scars in action: This year during CHEER 2016, SCARS took up entire chunks of the audience, cheering not only for Cyrens and Rayvens, but all teams who participated.

But probably the biggest secret to the Cyrens’ success isn’t their strength training or their school’s support system – it’s the school’s “cheer mums”.

The cheerleaders’ mothers take it upon themselves to organise cheerleading camps for the girls, host birthday parties for all the team members and print customised T-shirts for their supporters.

“They have their own Whatsapp group,” said Yang, with an embarrassed smile that belied just a hint of pride.

For all her training methods, Tan herself believes the parents’ and school’s support of the cheerleaders is really one of the main reasons the school has been able to churn out champions year after year.

“In any team sport, it’s all about communication, trust and a close relationship,” she said. “Those are things you can’t manufacture. That kind of relationship has to blossom on it’s own, and I think the parents understand that importance. That’s why they’re constantly coming up with new ways to get the girls to bond.”

Even the parents of the girls have their own Cheer Mom and Cheer Dad T-shirts.

Even the parents of the girls have their own Cheer Mom and Cheer Dad T-shirts.

But there is a price to all that attention and affection – Yang and her teammates face constant pressure to live up to everyone’s expectations.

“We do get a bit of hate after competitions sometimes,” said Yang.

“There are some people who, maybe unintentionally, pile on the pressure by reminding us how this is our seventh year and we’d better get the trophy or else we’d end up disappointing the whole school,” she said, before bursting into laughter. “It’s not like that thought wasn’t going through my head the entire time!

“The girls always say to me how it’s easy to win once, but the hard part is defending the title.”

And then there are the whispers that travel from rival schools to theirs. As one of the biggest names in the cheerleading scene, it’s only natural for the Cyrens to not only attract fans, but haters as well.

“We do get a bit of hate after competitions sometimes,” said Yang.

“We do get a bit of hate after competitions sometimes,” said Yang.

“Some people complain about us on Twitter,” added Dean. “They say we don’t deserve to win simply because it’s always us. “We won’t say who they are, or what team they support, but word just gets around, you know?”

Yang was quick to point out that the negative comments never come from rival cheerleaders, but mostly their supporters.

“All the cheerleading teams in Malaysia are really supportive of each other,” she said. “That’s because we all know how it feels like to fall.”

Indeed, Cyrens cheerleaders were often seen court-side during CHEER 2016, offering encouragement to other teams, especially the newer ones.

Yang(2nd from left) taking a selfie ala-cheerleader with her teammates.

Yang(2nd from left) taking a selfie ala-cheerleader with her teammates.

Unfortunately, one of the teams that did fall at the tournament included the Rayvens. At CHEER, the level of competition is so high, just a single fall will cost you the championship – as it did for the Rayvens, who relinquished their Junior All-Girls division title to Anselm from SMK Infant Jesus Convent, Malacca, the first ever division champions from outside the Klang Valley.

The Calyx Co-Ed team won the third and final major division, the Senior Co-Ed title.

Even though the Senior Co-Ed division (for mixed-gender teams) often packs bigger, more impressive stunts, the Cyrens’ division – CHEER Senior All-Girls division – is still regarded as the biggest prize in Malaysian cheerleading.

And that’s why the girls from Cyrens know that every time they perform, it’s all eyes on them, and the possibility of them slipping up and finishing second, unthinkable at the moment, is always there.

But the most important thing, said Yang, is to learn to just enjoy the ride.

“When I first joined cheerleading, my seniors gave me some great advice. They said I should just enjoy myself as much as I can on the mat.

“Whatever happens, happens. Even if we finish second, at least we would have enjoyed ourselves performing.”

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Previous intern Clarissa likes a lot of things. Ice cream, books, her colleagues, Welcome to Nightvale. Writing about herself is not one of those things.

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