At the beginning of his freshman year, Alec Valentino’s’21 was approached by his brother Aaron Valentino’18, one of the only male athletes on the competitive co-ed cheerleading team at the time. Needing another male to fulfill the IHSA requirements for co-ed cheerleading, Aaron recruited his brother to join the team.
“I feel comfortable with everyone on the team,” Alec said. “ I feel really good when I’m out because I have people to talk to. I feel like I’m not an outcast, I don’t feel like it’s uncomfortable that I’m a male cheerleader. I feel like I’m part of a team.”
Being one of only two male athletes on team, Alec struggled a lot his first year dealing with crude and insensitive comments regarding his cheering he said. However, as time progressed he was able to push past the stigma surrounding male cheerleading and disregard what people had to say about him in general. He was surrounded by a team that supported and looked out for each other and that’s what was most important. Calling themselves “ the returners” Alec and a group of teammates have been able to make an even stronger bond after having come back to cheer together every year, he said
“Alec and I had always played sports together,” Aaron said. “This was just another one to add on. He ended up liking it as much as I did, so he stuck with it.”
Aaron, now a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, decided to join cheer in eighth grade at Highlands Middle School and was on the LT team starting his sophomore year of high school. Having a close knit relationship with his brother, Aaron strongly encouraged his brother to join.
“Comparing Alec to how he was when he first started [cheer] to now is night and day,” Aaron said. “He’s a completely different athlete, and I’m proud of him for staying on the team and improving.”
Alec cheered his freshman year and for half of sophomore year, and plans on continuing through junior year. However, he has decided to not continue senior year in order to put more focus on grades, school, and outside events. Alec originally tried out for cheer like his brother had at Highlands Middle School after being encouraged to “continue the legacy,” Alec said. He did not make the team, although he learned things that helped him when joining the competitive team at LT, he said.
Over the years, cheer has trained Alec to become stronger physically and mentally due to its vigorous training and emphasis on strength and endurance and “is not just running around on a mat and cheering,” Coach Demetria Korpen said.
“Alec is motivated, determined, and eager to learn and improve his skills,” Korpen said
“Alec is motivated, determined, and eager to learn and improve his skills,” Korpen said. “He sets goals for himself and others and encourages everyone to be the best they can be along with maintaining a productive work environment at practice.”
With the first competition approaching Dec.8 at Carl Sandburg High School, Alec hopes that by being one of the strongest backspots on the team, along with his tumbling skills, that he will be able to qualify for state this season. By doing that he wishes to prove to people that cheerleading is a true sport that requires lots of diligence and dedication.
Nearly getting hurt almost everyday freshman year, Alec has been able to build up a tolerance to the injuries faced and almost expects it coming. As a result, he was awarded the hardest hits award at the end of the season. Besides making state, his main goal this year is to have fun and make sure that everyone else on the team is having a great experience.
“[The stigma] isn’t going to change,” Aaron said. “Just like every sport, it has a stereotype. It’s not a sport for one [gender] or the other. I’d encourage other guys to join the team because it teaches you things you won’t learn anywhere else. It only changed my life for the better, even during the bad times. Best decision I ever made.”