Cheerleading started as a male endeavor in 1898, when a University of Minnesota football fan led the crowd in verse in support of their team. It was not until World War II, when men shipped out to war, that women took over. Then cheerleaders came to represent the American ideal of femininity: wholesome apple pie with washboard stomachs, perfect teeth, and flawless complexions. Stereotypes cast them as blond, petite, and impossibly perky. “From its humble beginning cheerleading has blossomed into a competitive athletic activity with a serious image problem” (Forman 52).
But today’s post-feminist youth have put a new, diverse face on cheerleading. Cheerleading in America is no longer a matter of waving pom-poms, a cute smile and being overly perky. Calling themselves athletes, not eye candy, cheerleaders are pushing harder for recognition as participants in an official sport. Today, cheerleading involves skills which require the strength of football, the grace of dance, and the agility of gymnastics. Complex maneuvers are performed which challenge the limits of the body.
Safety organizations such as the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators were formed to develop safety rules to guide programs in the safe performance of cheerleading gymnastics, which include jumps, partner stunts, pyramids and tumbling. With the risks involved today, cheerleading should receive statewide recognition as a sport. Opposition to making cheerleading a sport, continually say, cheerleaders are not athletes.
Confirmation of this lies in the position paper of Women’s Sports Foundation, “any physical activity in which relative performance can be judged or quantified can be developed into a competitive sport as long as (1) the physical activity includes the above defined elements and (2) the primary purpose is competition versus other teams or individuals within a competition structure comparable to other athletics’ activities…Cheerleading in its current format, does not meet the second criteria listed above.
The primary purpose is not competition, but that of raising school unity through leading the crowd at athletic functions. ” (Forman 51) Yet, as sports like football, basketball, and wrestling become more popular, so does the cheerleaders. Nay-Sayers of the movement are content to have cheerleaders just be the “back-up dancers”. Not understanding that cheerleaders are just as important as the sports teams they cheer for. Challengers say cheerleaders do not have the same time commitments as other sports teams.
While they also do not recognize the physical strain put on cheerleaders bodies and the increased risk for injuries. The long-held view of cheerleading as merely another school activity is also a concern. If the athleticism of cheerleading is not recognized, the supervision will continue to fall to teachers that are not qualified to adequately supervise. Additionally, existing advisors will not receive the training necessary to provide adequate supervision of an increasingly athletic activity. Cheerleading has all the elements of a sport: competition, practice skills, teamwork, and training.
It also has a year round commitment. “An important movement in the world of cheerleading is the struggle to legitimate the activity in the eyes of the public, said Laura Grindstaff, assistant professor of sociology and cultural studies at the University of California-Davis”(Coman “Cheerleading is now risker”). Cheerleaders are struggling to gain the recognition and respect they deserve for their sport. Although some colleges offer cheerleading scholarships, cheerleaders still face discrimination in high school and college athletics.
It is alarming considering all the new risks involved that it has yet to be mandated in all states as a sport. Twenty six state athletic organizations have deemed cheerleading should be recognized as a sport, but what about the other twenty five? “Cheerleading was excluded as a sport when Title IX was passed, which forbids sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding” (Rondon 98). Title IX was supposed to be legislation that mandated that boys and girls receive equal sporting opportunities.
But even certification only requires that coaches pass an online test; there’s no requirement for training in gymnastics or spotting techniques. ” (Ebersole “Thrills and Spills”). And only about a dozen states regulate cheer according to the rules set by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). For high school football, on the other hand, all states follow the NFHS rulebook except Texas, which uses the NCAA college-level rules. “Soccer, hockey, basketball, and gymnastics cannot compete when it comes to serious back problems, fractures and, in grave cases paralysis”(Forman 51). Cheerleading is not considered a sport, so none of the safeguards that other sports have developed applies”(Forman 52). In the two states where cheerleading is classified as a sport, cheerleaders are subject to the same rules as athletes, regarding practice and travel restrictions, safety, camps, and coaching certification. Cheerleaders need the guarantee of proper training room, proper medical care, and proper checks and screenings for participants. If properly recognized teams would be provided better training facilities, coaches would be properly trained, injuries would decrease and funding for the programs would increase.
With every aspect of cheerleading becoming increasingly difficult cheerleading deserves the state-wide recognition as a sport just as any other physical sporting activity. In the words of Kane of the Tucker Center, “when the culture starts rewarding cheerleading in the same way in which it rewards women and men sports with economic parity and scholarships, not simply regulated to the sidelines, then I think we’re onto something” (Rondon 99). No longer content to just cheer on the sidelines, cheerleaders are now demanding the respect they so rightfully deserve.