Pete Parrotta.

Pete Parrotta.

Pete Parrotta: Leading the cheer

Chilliwack's Pete Parrotta, 35, as featured in The Chilliwack Progress Forty Under 40.

Pete Parrotta bristles when the topic of cheerleading misconceptions is raised.

In many people’s minds, the vision of the cheerleader is still that of a pretty girl in a skimpy outfit, placed on the sideline as eye candy while the real athletes do their thing.

“There’s the misconception that it’s the pom-pom, booty-shaking thing,” he says, frowning. “But it’s not that anymore. It has become its own sport.”

Four years ago, the 35-year-old opened Pacific Allstar Cheerleading with an original group of 28 kids. Within four walls at 45778 Gaetz St., enrollment has since ballooned into the 70s.

Kids between the ages of four to 19 jump, tumble and flip in ways your stereotypical cheerleader never could.

“The biggest thing for me is seeing kids come in without skills and seeing them leave with skills,” Parrotta says. “I get jazzed when I see the smiles on their faces and they’re yelling, ‘Mom! Mom! Look at this!’ Knowing I helped them get there, that’s what I look forward to every day.”

Parrotta’s crew wins trophies wherever they compete. But the biggest competition is Parrotta’s own Pacific Allstar Cheer Championships.

In mid-January, teams from here there and everywhere trek to the Valley for the largest single-day event at Heritage Park.

The most recent event drew between 1,700 and 2,000 athletes and between 4,000 and 5,000 spectators. It requires an army of volunteers to pull off and generates big bucks for the local economy.

And if Parrotta has his way, it’s only going to get bigger.

“I’m pretty stoked about what it’s become, and the next step is to add a second day that involves some of the local dance programs,” he says.

Beyond that, Parrotta also hopes to bring cheerleading into schools, involving kids who can’t afford to get involved otherwise.

“It has opened up so many doors for me, and I’d like to open up doors for them,” says Parrotta, who has used his cheerleading expertise to land choreography work on movies and television. “I went to the University of Hawaii on a full athletic scholarship, and many colleges and universities offer full or partial scholarships. That’s available to any of these kids if they work hard at it. As much as I can be a positive influence, that’s what I want to do.”