I have to admit that a recent WSJ article (“What’s the Point of Cheerleading?”) bruised my ego a bit (though I read with fervor that most people reserve for presidential elections or health care reform).
As a former cheerleader for a Big 12 university, I was not surprised by the statistics the article quoted: 65 percent of all catastrophic injuries to high school- and college-age females are attributable to cheerleading, and the number of cheerleading-related injuries has more than quadrupled in 25 years.
The big question then, antagonists pose, is “With these sorts of risks, is cheerleading even worth it?” Naysayers (parents of girls who didn’t make the squad) claim that, in addition to being dangerous, cheerleading is getting too grabby for the limelight and has strayed too far from its traditional duty, supporting the team— or, let’s face it, “supporting the boys”. The University of Connecticut recently pulled the plug on the school’s team and replaced it with a non-athletic “spirit squad” that is refocused on what is “really important”: supporting other athletes. Notes John Saddlemire, UConn’s VP for student affairs, “The emphasis on stunting had detracted from the major purpose.”
It seems to me very regressive to eliminate an athletic squad that (mostly female) members have worked hard to advance. In the last decades, cheerleading has struggled to become a standalone activity, and has greatly increased its watchability by advancing the level of difficulty in its stunts and pyramids. But along with cheerleading’s athletic evolution comes more frequent and severe injuries. And since the cheerleader’s primary responsibility is to be the support staff of the big show (football, basketball), the cheerleaders/athletes are forced to comply with setups (gravel tracks, hard-wood floors) that offer little protection for those times when their gymnastics moves and Cirque du Soleil-esque stunts go awry.
Additionally, since cheerleading is not considered a sport by most schools’ standards, cheerleaders do not qualify for the extra funding that would be needed to hire coaches experienced enough to manage this level of athletic difficulty. Also, labeling cheerleading a sport opens a whole new can of worms for schools, e.g., issues related to state funding and gender equality.
The answer? The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators (AACCA) recommends a compromise—a new category. Under the umbrella “athletic activity,” students involved in cheerleading, dance, drill team, etc., will be considered student athletes, but will not be held to the same sets of regulations as sports (which would involve unsuited limitations on practice times and competition schedules.) This new, more appropriate designation will allow for better funding, insurance and support—all necessary to make cheerleading a safer and continually progressive activity.
Posted by Megan Cassidy
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