Pep is back

Tessa Jazmines - Part of the Game

THINGS are rolling out slowly but surely for collegiate ball, the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) version.

Last Tuesday, April 5, live audiences were admitted back into the playing arena. Exactly two weeks later, on Tuesday, pep squads could already take their usual perch on the rafters. Drummers and rah-rah people could do their thing, with gusto.

The change in the atmosphere was palpable. Just two weeks ago, the audience felt like it was walking through catacombs as they rode the escalators and wound their way around the Mall of  Asia Arena corridors to find their seats. This time the crack and boom of drums welcomed you from the moment the automatic gates opened to let you in. They grew louder as you ascended the escalator. The familiar beats and cheers became recognizable and your steps go a little bit faster. Then you hear the roar of the crowd, the high-pitched screams. And you’re a goner.

This was as normal as normal could get, given the remaining restrictions. It was a big deal for the audience to get the frills and accoutrements of watching collegiate basketball, even if they came in layers. Pep squads double the fun, admittedly. They add color and zest to the action on the floor.

Truth is, cheerleading teams play a major role in sports competitions. They are crowd leaders who connect the fans to the players on the court. They boost energy and enthusiasm and fire up the crowd. In turn the team feeds off the energy produced by the crowd. With morale raised and spirits soaring, players are able to play better. Most of the time they actually win.

Pep squads are not just a modern day feature of sports competitions. They have their roots in ancient times. Because sports is basically a battle, albeit a friendly one marked by civilized sportsmanship, the origins of the worth and function of cheerleading have been forgotten, or set aside.

But voice—okay, noise—is very important when teams or sides are waging war, for real or on the playing court. Drums in particular have been an integral part of battles since before the birth of Christ! The oldest record of drums being used in battle was during the war between the states of Qi and Lu in China in 684 B.C.—a good example of how powerful the support of drums can be in war.

Here, as the two forces confronted each other on the battlefield, Qi drummers goaded the Lu army to fight. The Lu army didn’t bite, and instead timed their attack with the third drum roll.

The State of Lu won the day because “the enemy force had a great momentum at the first round of drum beating, had a weaker momentum by the second beating, and was exhausted by the third. We attacked when their spirits were exhausted. That’s why we won,” explained the Lu ruler’s adviser. The sound and the beat of drums have an incredible connection to raising spirit and strength.

Military drummers have actually played a huge role in warfare all throughout history. Soldiers move and march to battle to the sound of drums. The beat of the drums regulates their loading and re-loading of weapons in the heat of battle. Drummers are used in wars to raise morale during the fight.

Yells, like drum beats are also connected to spirit. See how martial artists give out a strong and intimidating shout when throwing a kick or strike? Called the kihap, it is a combination of the word ki or energy and hap, which means to gather, coordinate, concentrate—a gathering of energy, power or force.

That’s why the combined power of drummers and cheerleaders is able to egg on players and crowd to wage non-stop war in sports competitions. Collegiate competitions in particular are blah without them.

Thus the return of pep squads to the UAAP playing arena after two long years is cause for good cheer. All hail to them who keep our adrenaline pumping.

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