Red Deer cheerleaders will be at the provincial championships at West Edmonton Mall this weekend despite terrorist threats against the mall.
Police and security presence will be heightened after online terrorist threats against shopping malls, including the Edmonton mega-mall.
Eleven athletes, aged eight to 12, from Exelta Gymnastic Club will compete for the first time at the Alberta Cheerleading Association’s annual championship. The Exelta club is based at the Collicutt Centre.
A video posted on Feb. 21 purportedly from the Al-Shabab group urged Muslims to attack malls, including the Mall of America in Minneapolis and West Edmonton Mall.
Exelta coach Carissa Woolsey said the club is satisfied that the event will be safe after assurances from the Alberta Cheerleading Association (ACA), mall administration, Edmonton Police Service and RCMP.
Mall security and police presence will be significantly increased during the competition, along with additional security contracted by ACA.
“They have increased the mall security and there’s going to be plainclothes police officers around. We’re not too concerned. Our whole team is onboard and excited to do it,” Woolsey said on Wednesday.
The Red Deer team competes on Sunday.
She said two teams in Exelta’s category dropped out of the competition, leaving three teams.
The 2015 ACA Cheerleading Championships is a great competition because of the venue and the number of athletes, she said.
“There are still hundreds of teams,” Woolsey said about some teams dropping out due to the threat.
Denise Fisher, ACA executive director, said as of Wednesday 151 out of 186 teams from five provinces are still attending the event.
“We still have over 2,700 athletes competing. The environment is going to be exciting. Cheerleaders bring a lot of excitement and a lot of enthusiasm with them,” Fisher said.
The majority of groups that opted not to send athletes are school-based, but there were also some who had to withdraw due to injuries, she said.
Some teams will go on to the World Cheerleading Championships in Florida in April.
Woolsey said her club has been looking forward to the Alberta championships this weekend.
“It’s the biggest Canadian competition, besides nationals. There are cheerleaders everywhere. It’s just really fun compared to a lot of others. It’s definitely one we wanted to try out this year.”
It’s only the second year for Exelta’s cheerleading team. Preparation for the season began last August with athletes practising two to three times a week.
Woolsey said she hopes all the recent attention on the competition will make people more curious about the sport.
“A lot of people haven’t heard of cheerleading, or they think of it as pompoms and stacking people into a pyramid. Hopefully they can see it’s a lot more athletic and requires a lot more skill.”