FAIRFIELD -- One of the FCIAC's most talented and coveted athletes this winter will not be found with a ball, puck, stick or any other piece of equipment.
In fact, there is still an ongoing debate about whether Alley Meyer is excelling in a sport or an activity.
What is beyond dispute is Meyer's skill level.
Meyer is a member of Fairfield Ludlowe's cheerleading team, which this winter will attempt to win its third league title in four years. Meyer will be one of the top cheerleaders to come out of the FCIAC, and hopes next year to be a member of an elite college program.
"Obviously she is extremely talented," said Ashley Carolan, the Falcons' coach. "When she first tried out for Ludlowe, you could tell she was definitely one of the top tumblers and top stunters. I was extremely excited."
The FCIAC recognizes cheerleading as a sport. In fact, its championships each winter are among the most well attended of any league-sanctioned event during the school year.
However, last summer the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by Quinnipiac University to designate cheerleading as a varsity sport. Quinnipiac had been attempting to terminate its volleyball program while still adhering to Title IX rules that require women to have the same opportunities as men to play on a team.
At the time of the ruling, Meyer said, "People who think that we don't do anything but dance around and don't think what we do is a sport are uneducated. We know how hard we work and what we do."
If Meyer was a basketball or football player, she would be getting offers from the country's top Division I schools. Because of the NCAA's stance on cheerleading, Meyer is in the reverse position of having to get her name out there and recruit schools.
Meyer must first see which colleges she gets accepted to, then wait until April, when many of their cheerleading teams hold tryouts. She is looking at schools like Louisville, South Carolina, North Carolina State and Georgia, where she can compete at the highest level and also study nursing.
"I've always wanted to cheer in college and take my experiences to an intense level," Meyer said. "The competitive aspect of it is what motivates me. Especially the tumbling aspect. I work hard on the outside doing things that not everyone else does to improve myself."
While sports specialization has reached new levels in recent years, with the high school season now just a small portion of the annual schedule, Meyer has taken her dedication to the extreme.
Meyer said she first started with gymnastics before she turned 2, and was introduced to cheerleading at the Pop Warner level while in middle school.
"It was so much more exciting than gymnastics," Meyer recalled. "I really loved the performance part of it, and working with a team."
Meyer said her enthusiasm was further fueled when she joined the Connecticut Spirit All-Star team.
"That really opened my eyes to the world of competitive cheerleading," she said.
Meyer said there is still a misperception about the sport, and that most people associate cheerleading only with what they see at high school football games.
"That is more the relaxing time, when you have some fun," Meyer said. "But in practices we are working hard for our competitions. We start setting our goals, working on doing well in the FCIACs and states."
Meyer said her only time away from the sport takes place after regional competition -- Ludlowe finished third in New England last season -- at the end of March until tryouts at the end of April.
Meyer said she does a lot of her conditioning work during the summer, when the team also goes to camps.
The choreography for the Falcons' routines takes place in October, leading up to the competitive season, which will begin next week.
Carolan said unlike in basketball, where one standout player can make a dramatic impact, there is more nuance in putting a cheerleading team together.
"We work in groups of fours so a lot of what I need to do is find who has the better chemistry in putting them together," Carolan said. "You look at who has the best all-around skills, including tumbling, jumping, stunting, cheering and leadership. And it is not just the skills but also having the right attitude. I'm lucky to have so many dedicated girls on the team. It's not just one person. That's why we have been successful. This team is closer than any team I've ever coached."
Meyer's work ethic is a big reason she will get to try out for some of the top college teams. She said she gets up early during the week and goes to the gym from 5-6 a.m. before school. She also works at the Gymnastics and Cheerleading Academy of Connecticut in Fairfield.
"I have excellent time management skills," Meyer said with a smile. "As a high school student, cheerleading is a part of me. I go to classes and train."
Added Carolan, "She's as skilled as she is so passionate about the sport. She doesn't settle for anything less than the best."
Meyer credited Carolan for her own personal development, as well as the team's.
"She's amazing," Meyer said. "She can take any person who has the ability and loves cheering and make her into something. It takes an amazing person to get you to perform well together."
Meyer said right now her goal is to be part of a Ludlowe team that will win league, state and regional titles. Then she will set out to realize her dream of continuing at the next level.
"I look at how amazing others are and how good they are and I am doing all I can to try and get there," Meyer said.
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