If the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Cheerdance Competition has the University of the Philippines Pep Squad as its top team, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Cheerleading Competition has the University of Perpetual Help System-DALTA (UPHSD) Altas Perpsquad as its reigning champion.
With seven championship titles under their belt, the squad from Las Piñas is indeed the team to beat when it comes to the cheering sport.
The team, named after UPHSD founder and chief executive officer Antonio Laperal Tamayo, was established in school year 2003-2004 when NCAA opened the cheerleading competition in the league. And so far, out of the nine competitions, the squad has won seven titles. Known for their flawless routine, the group has again grabbed the title this year which also marks their fourth straight championship.
"(At the) end (of) the NCAA season, they saved the best for last. Perpetual ended the season with more than a bang. The four-peat victory is a proud achievement not only for my family but the whole Dalta group as well," says UPHSD president Anthony Jose Tamayo.
Their victory became even sweeter when the team also won third place in the National Cheerleading Championship (NCC). The back-to-back finals of the NCAA and NCC were held on the weekend of March 9 and 10. This double victory has made the Altas Perpsquad even prouder of what they've achieved even if the two competitions demanded so much from them.
"We were so tired! The night after the NCAA competition, we had to practice our routine for the NCC competition the next day. But we did it," says the Altas head coach Ruf Vandolph Rosario or coach Rhufa to the team.
The team consistently placed third and second in the past years of the NCC since it started in 2006. They got their first national championship in 2009.
Coach Rhufa says they're particularly proud of their homegrown members. These are students who had zero knowledge of the sport but eventually learned and honed their skills during their stay in the team.
"What we're proud of are our homegrown cheerleaders. Meaning, from amateurs to becoming elite cheerleaders. We focus on them and train them to be elite cheerleaders in the league," he says.
One of these homegrown talents is 22-year-old Ricardo Sison Jr. who is now the team's captain. A graduating BS Information Technology student, Ricardo had to hurdle a lot before becoming one of the best in the team.
"I had no experience in cheering but the moment I entered Perpetual and I saw them training. I knew what I wanted to do. I was accepted by coach because he doesn't discriminate. I was 220 pounds then. He said if I was willing to learn, I was welcome," Ricardo shares.
As an overweight athlete then, he found the training difficult. Running one lap in the field proved to be arduous, which often left him breathless. Simple stretching was also a trial. But now, he is 80 lbs. lighter, weighing 140 lbs.
"It's a passion. My heart is in cheerleading. Half of my heart belongs to cheerleading and the other half belongs to my studies," he says.
First year AB Psychology student Amabel Marie Artita joined the sport when she was in high school. Coach Rhufa helped their team before and recruited her to be part of the Altas.
The last two finals were her first major competitions. For her, she just enjoys what she loves to do and is proud of being a "Perpetualite."
"I'm enjoying my stay here in the pep squad. I had plans of leaving but I always come back because my heart belongs to cheerleading. And the family and friendship we built among teammates are what makes me want to stay longer. During the championship, I saw how the school supported us. I am a proud Perpetualite," says Amabel, 17.
STUDIES FIRST, CHEERING SECOND
The team offers scholarships to its members - a full varsity scholarship and a tuition discount scholarship. Coach Rhufa says that they just don't pick the members; the members should be committed to their studies as well.
"Here, we really check their grades. Our team does not only focus on cheerleading but on their studies as well. They just have to pass all their grades. We have skills requirement like flexibility and small knowledge of gymnastics but they must have a good standing in school," he explains.
More than academic excellence though, Coach Rhufa places high importance on being able to maintain good health on the part of the members. After all, cheerleading is one of the most dangerous sports. A simple mistake with a lift or throw can cause irreparable injuries.
"In any sport, if you miss the ball, all you lose is the ball. For us, if you miss the catch, you'll lose a lot more. It's not a simple game but a dangerous sport," Ricardo adds.
The international cheer judges who conduct cheer camps in the NCC, for instance, are shocked to find the local teams train on foam mats, instead of spring floors. But for these cheerleaders, cheering is their life and passion so they will do whatever it takes to continue to do what they love, despite the dangers of the sport.
"If you really want to cheer, go ahead, that's your passion. Don't cheer for the benefit of it but for the passion. You also need to study because you won't be a cheerleader forever," Ricardo says.
At the UPHSD, students are encouraged to participate in extra- and co-curricular activities - from research, community development, to values formation, and of course, sports.
"Part of the vision of both my parents is the holistic development of the Perpetualite as a leader. We develop not only the intellectual aspect, but the (ability) to balance academics and co-curricular activities like areas in research and community development. Isa pang key area is values formation, and the other area is sports," Tamayo says.
UPHSD strongly supports its sports development program. They have invested in facilities so that students can train in the best possible way. The have various sports teams, from basketball to soft tennis that compete in the NCAA league. They are proud that their teams win in the league, something all schools are aiming for.
"In terms of developing the talent, Perpetual is not only a venue for molding the character but also for developing all the potentials of the individual. And sports is one of them. Part of the sports development program is to recruit and retain talent, to boost the total development of the Perpetualite," he says.