About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use
Best Quotes
Guest Commentary
Who Am I?
Monthly Archives

July 11, 2004

Extreme Cheerleading: A Sport? Or A Distraction?

FROM THE THIN LINE THAT SEPARATES BOOSTERISM FROM COMPETITION comes a groundswell of deliberation regarding what ought to be the proper role of cheerleading in college athletics.

Years ago, cheerleaders were pompom-clutching, gum chewing, sideline rah-rah bunnies no closer to being called athletes than ticket-takers or water boys.
Somewhere along the way—was it the equal rights amendment? was it Title IX? was it Olympic gymnasts?—cheerleading morphed into more of a competitive, stunt-driven sport of its own.

Fast Forward to 2004. Today’s cheerleading squads are populated by lithe, limber and lively lady cheerleaders along with buff and burly male musclemen. Cheerleaders might not be athletes, but they are most definitely athletic.

As evidence that cheerleading has arrived as competitive sport, word came this week from the US Air Force Academy that a male cheerleader was in possession of anabolic steroids.

Cheerleading ain’t just pompoms no more.

Although their stunts sometimes detract from the game, most college fans seem to think cheerleaders provide value-added entertainment. And why not? Many college venues feature extra-sensory jumbo-screen scoreboards, mega decibel loudspeakers, light shows, tailgating excesses, elaborate half time shows, mascots, and all manner of goofy promotions.

So what’s the problem if a bunch of acrobatic cheerleaders perform circus-style stunts for the crowd?

Well, the problem is that the increased athleticism and risky stunts have resulted in an unprecedented raft of injuries, some quite serious. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, cheerleading injuries doubled between 1991 and 2001.

Because cheerleading is not considered a sport in most states, schools can have squads without coaches, or coaches without safety certifications.

Consequently, there are several overlapping movements afoot. Some factions are pushing for cheerleaders to be competitive athletes, with a presence separate from basketball and football games. The University of Maryland has recently gone this path, with several scholarship student-athletes in the mix.

Other factions have detuned the risky circus stunts, and return cheerleading to a safer, more traditional pump-the-crowd role. Several big schools have chosen this path, including the University of Nebraska and Duke.

The new version stunt-free squads have detracted less from the games on court and field. Says Duke cheerleading coach Teresa Jones Ward, “A lot of times you go to a game and you can hardly concentrate on it. Cheerleaders are being thrown in the air, dance teams are circling the court, and gymnasts are doing flips. They're almost like circuses, and that's a byproduct of stunting.”

Sis Boom Bah.

(this 398 word excerpt—with attendant commentary—was distilled from a 1038 word article in The Christian Science Monitor of 6-24-04)