By John "Woods" Armwood III
The New Jersey native Claudia Ralph has made pivotal strides in the cheerleading community. In fact, Ralph’s become what some consider one of the faces of the modern-day age of cheerleading. She’s from a small town in northern New Jersey, Hillsdale, where she was born into an athletic family. Ralph and LSU star gymnast Olivia Dunne share the same hometown approximately 25 minutes away from New York.
Although she was born into an athletic family her influence to cheer came purely from within. There’s no family history or anyone who guided her into wanting to cheer, therefore Ralph’s accolades and accomplishments are all self-motivated.
“Unfortunately, I was 5’2 and understood playing at the next level wasn’t really an option for me unless I cheered,” Ralph expressed during the Sh3GotGame interview. “In the past, my grandmother cheered but that had no impact on my decision.”
Claudia Ralph’s “Sh3GotGame Moment”
Oftentimes, many athletes realize their “Sh3GotGame Moment” when they’re younger and developing and just proving to be excelling among their peers. However, Ralph admits her moment came much later in life and when she was arguably at her lowest mentally and emotionally.
In spite of Ralph not getting highly recruited coming out of high school, she continued to follow her passions and dreams after high school. Ralph considered the prestige of the University, as well as the athletics and religious impact. Growing up, Ralph’s faith was extremely important to her and she wanted to continue to express herself. Ultimately, this led her to commit to Catholic University of America.
After completing two years, Ralph eventually decides to later transfer to Seton Hall University. Throughout the transfer process, Ralph's anxiety began to become worse and it affected her negatively emotionally and mentally. That said, once she arrived back in New Jersey, she tried out blindly for the cheer team. Not knowing what the outcome would be, she decided to bet on herself. Ralph was one of 70 students trying out for five available spots, yet she looked past the odds and made the team.
“In order to get to that moment, I had to walk through the fire, and once I saw I made the team my life changed forever,” Ralph said. “I proved to myself and everyone who doubted me. It was an absolutely pivotal moment for me.”
Cheerleading Continues to Involve
In spite of not being recruited in high school, Ralph enjoys recruiting as the head coach for Princeton. She admits that the game of recruiting has changed drastically over the past five to six years. Previously, there weren’t many schools that recruited, often they’d walk on and just try out. Now, she explains there are full-blown cheerleading combines with rankings that help assists coaches in recruiting.
“Personally, I try to recruit as much as I can, however I’m looking for a specific type of person,” Ralph emphasizes. “Therefore, the combines and camps are good for other coaches to find recruits but I try to not use those metrics.”
Although the progression of the sport and athletes continue to advance, there are aspects of the sport that doesn’t and draws concern to Ralph. On the “CHEERFIT” podcast, Ralph was featured and discussed some of the nasty aspects of cheering. The main theme Ralph emphasized appeared to be body awareness and eating disorders.
She briefly mentions, how when she was younger she often felt isolated and alone, however as she began to mature she soon realized this was a common theme throughout the entire sport.
“Unfortunately, abuse is a huge issue in the sport, Ralph emphasizes. “However, we can all do better being aware and more knowledgeable about eating disorders.”
Over time, Ralph has gained the confidence to speak up about her personal experiences and the experiences of former teammates. Once Ralph realized she wasn’t the only person going through this horrific state of mind, it helped her become more receptive and helped change her perspective instead of suffering in silence.
“It was a relief in a way to find out I wasn’t alone in the suffering,” Ralph said. “Through therapy, I got so much more feedback and it changed my entire perspective.”
Transitioning from Performing to Coaching
After graduating from Seton Hall with an MBA, it forced Ralph to take the next step in her career. Naturally, she attempted to find a job while continuing to pursue her career in cheerleading. Later, Ralph managed to find a day job while also becoming the head cheerleading coach for New Providence High School. Shortly after, she was rewarded with the opportunity to become the head coach for the Princeton Tigers.
She admits coaching is completely different than performing, however they both bring two different joys. She believes that the feeling she got from cheerleading won’t be replicated. That said, she loves coaching and she loves the responsibility that comes with it.
“Becoming a coach is just a different responsibility than any captain or leader on the team,” Ralph explained in great detail. “I understood I couldn't cheer forever and the transition has been wonderful.”
In conclusion, although the transition has been wonderful the grind is continuous and Ralph is the epitome of hard work and determination. That said when asked for any advice she’d like to offer, Ralph responded:
“Look ahead and never give up on yourself,” Ralph emphasized. “You are the one that will make your dreams come true."