Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders


CHEER! is the Inspiration for the CW's Hot New Series, HELLCATS, Starring Alyson Michalka and Ashley Tisdale.

Think cheerleading is just pom-poms, "gimme an 'R,'" and pleated skirts? Not anymore. Take an exhilarating trip through the rough-and-tumble world of competitive college cheerleading....

College cheerleaders are extreme athletes who fly thirty feet in the air, build pyramids in which a single slip can send ten people crashing to the ground, and compete in National Championships that are won by hundredths of a point. Cheer! is a year-long odyssey into their universe, following three squads from tryouts to Nationals.

Meet the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack cheerleaders from Nacogdoches, Texas, whoseem destined to win their fifth National Championship in a row -- until they are shaken by the departure of their longtime coach. Fall in love with the Southern University Jaguars from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an African-American team hoping to raise the $17,000 needed to travel to Nationals and transform their near win several years ago into a Cinderella victory. Root for the University of Memphis All-Girl cheerleaders from Tennessee -- a team that continually struggles for the same respect Coed teams get -- when their quest for a national title is threatened by injuries and dropouts.

Along the way, meet unforgettable characters like Sierra, a cheerleading prodigy who has never lost a competition; Doug, who is in his eighth year as a college cheerleader; and Casi, one of the few female bases who can lift anothercheerleader on her own. These are people who risk horrifying injuries on a daily basis, battle demons like eating disorders and steroid use, and form intense bonds.

In the immersive tradition of Friday Night Lights, Cheer! is a captivating, all-access journey into a deeply absorbing world.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416535973 | 
  • March 2009
List Price $23.99 (price may vary by retailer)
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Reading Group Guide

Kate Torgovnick would be thrilled if your group would consider reading Cheer! Below are discussion questions to jump start a lively conversation. Kate is also available to talk to your group -- in person if you are in New York, or via phone if you live elsewhere. Email her at if you are interested. Enjoy!
Part One: Tryouts

1. Cheerleading is one of the only sports where men and women compete together. Yet when asked about dating teammates, James Turner, captain of the Southern University cheer squad says, "The girls on the squad are like my younger sisters. People always ask 'Are you holla-ing at 'em?' But I don't even look at them that way." (p. 30) How do gender dynamics seem to play out on college cheerleading squads? Does dating a teammate have the same implications as dating a coworker? How could team romances effect the squad's overall chemistry? How do the cheerleaders in the book navigate this minefield?
2. In Cheer!, Torgovnick gives many reasons why, in the cheerleading world, All-Girl teams are seen as secondary to coed teams -- including that All-Girl teams are associated with high school, and that All-Girl squads typically cheer for less-attended sports like women's basketball and volleyball. Why do you think this hierarchy has developed? The University of Memphis All-Girl Tigers say that one of their objectives in creating new moves and trying coed stunts is to get All-Girl cheerleading the respect it dese see more

About the Author

Kate Torgovnick
Photo Credit:

Kate Torgovnick

Kate Torgovnick is a former associate writer/editor at Jane magazine. She writes about extreme athletes for The New York Times and her articles have also appeared in Newsweek, The International Herald Tribune, and The Daily News (New York). She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and now lives in New York City.