Friday, September 4, 2009

Save the Cheerleader. Save the World!

The world appears to be in peril... because cheerleading as we know it may become extinct. Newsweek recently broke a story that the University of Connecticut (a NCAA D1 school) is cutting its cheerleading program and replacing it with a "spirit squad."

At first glance the differences may not be obvious. However, the Hartford Courant has reported that the spirit squad will do away with gymnastics and stunts that the cheerleading program had, and instead will focus on "tailgating areas handing out spirit buttons and other kinds of spirit supplies, and will focus on timeout, sideline and in-the-stand cheers that are fan-interactive." The reason for this, according to the school is that "By changing the style, and not requiring gymnastics experience, we will be able to offer the opportunity to participate to a broader pool of students. Students who did not have a chance to 'cheer' previously, or students who are not gymnasts, can represent their college as 'spirit ambassadors.'"

The problem with this is that college sports, especially at the D1 level, are supposed to be hard. Spots on the team should be reserved only for the very best of athletes, and if you can't cut it you either redshirt a season (you don't participate in games/competition but you practice and travel with the team) or you go to a smaller school where you can cut it. But by keeping their cheerleading program competitive and selective, UConn and other schools would have to recognize cheerleaders as actual athletes.

Now, I used to be on the camp that didn't think cheerleading was a "real" sport because they wore skimpy outfits and didn't get mud on their uniforms like I did playing soccer and running through muddy cross country trails. But, that's stupid. Cheerleaders and Poms required just as much athleticism as any other sports in the school, but weren't actually classified as sports even though they go to competitions all the time.

It's still this way in college, even at the top levels. According to Newsweek, "The National Collegiate Athletic Association doesn't consider cheerleading a member sport, nor does the organization have plans to recognize it in the future. In order for a sport to be recognized under Title IX, the 1972 bill that guaranteed equal funding for men's and women's college athletics, an activity must be primarily competitive."

"Cheerleading doesn't fall under that and it shouldn't," says Jim Lord, executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators. "If we're going to be cheering seven or eight home games for football, and maybe 15 to 20 home games for basketball—and that's just the men's side—then we would have to compete [in cheerleading competitions] at least that many times. That's impossible."

Most clubs and activities don't require practice every day, competitions every weekend plus participation in football and basketball games both home and away, sometimes for both men's and women's teams (yes, women's teams have cheerleaders. Sometimes). So, to replace the cheerleading program with a spirit squad, which according to the school's website, does not require gymnastics, dance, or cheer experience, is pretty insulting to actual cheerleaders who do the backflips and the double back handsprings and condition and lift weights to be able to do the stunts and routines they do.

I don't have anything against spirit squads; I'm all for school spirit, but I don't see why the school can't have both programs. Recognize cheerleading as a sport and let them do their competitions, and maybe have them perform a halftime routine. Then the spirit squad can do their cheers and pass out "spirit buttons" during timeouts and do their thing on the sidelines.

When people participate in sports at the D1 level, they are dedicating their lives to it, at least for while they are in college. Some of the cheerleaders at UConn said they chose the school specifically for its cheerleading program and now it's being dropped. Other schools are also reportedly dropping their programs.

I think part of the reason people don't want to recognize cheerleading as an official sport is the stigma associated with cheerleaders (dumb, bitchy, dumb and bitchy. Oh, and also slutty. Can't forget the slutty.)

When Taylor Swift sings, "She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers" she might as well be singing "She a skanky bitch and I'm super sweet." (you can clearly see this in the music video)

Not to mention that cheerleaders have traditionally been seen as "eye candy" for the male audience at the games. It's just a little disappointing that cheerleading is finally getting *some* respect (ESPN coverage, shows highlighting the hard work and skills it takes to become a cheerleader at all levels, etc.) and yet these girls still aren't considered athletes and the ones with the athleticism are being told they can now pass out spirit buttons (but still wear the skimpy cheerleading outfits - of course).

1 comment:

  1. haha. I loved this article. Not because I was on the poms squad, which don't forget, I was! lol. but because I do know the effort it takes to dance and do back flips (which I never quite mastered).

    I agree that the spirit squad is a good idea. I think that was the original intention of cheerleaders and poms. (although I was on poms, I still don't quite understand their role, I just enjoyed dancing...which is why I quite and went to a dance studio! that's beside the point)

    I think having a separate spirit squad will certainly promote the school spirit, but having the cheerleading squad is more of a separte "team" in itself. Many cheerleaders (and poms) take pride in the effort that is required to keep up with competitions. Whether they are considered a sport or not is not a huge issue, but I certainly consider them athletes. Although I do think a spirt squad is a good idea, one needs no athletic ablity to do that, and I complete agree that it is degrading to go from cheerleaders to spirit squad.