I have written several articles concerning competitive cheer in my time at the Enquirer, and there seems to always be one prevailing sentiment when I talk to cheerleaders and coaches.
They want more respect.
And I know for a fact that there is a lack of respect for competitive cheer, because I was part of the camp that didn’t respect it as a sport. I was a critic, a detractor, a naysayer or whatever you want to call it.
Boy was I wrong.
I’d like to see any non-cheer athlete do the things these girls are doing. I’m a poor example of an ‘athlete,’ but I can at least swim, dribble a basketball, throw a football or a baseball, serve a volleyball, and even put someone in a headlock. The idea of attempting a back flip or of being thrown up into the air — without the aid of a trampoline — terrifies me. I don’t want to even think about attempting the splits.
But competitive cheerleaders are certainly more than gymnasts. There is also the choreography that goes into each routine. Sure I can clap and yell, but try clapping and yelling in perfect harmony with 10 other people while knowing exactly where to stand.
“At school all the time… They pick on us, but they don’t know how much work we put in,” said Delton Kellogg senior Emmalea Wooden. “It’s the same as every other sport. I don’t care about the respect… I really don’t care because I love the sport, and if they don’t, whatever.”
The definition of sports, according to dictionary.com is, “An athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.” Sounds like competitive cheerleading to me.
“I think people still misunderstand how much skill is involved,” said Gull Lake head coach Julie Jones. “And how much execution dominates the sport, just like it does to shoot a basketball or score a touchdown. You have to execute here too, and the better the execution, the better the score.”
In fairness to my former view on competitive cheer, I grew up with five sisters — two of which were competitive dancers. Sports and Nintendo Gameboy were my escape from the constant recitals and national competitions. So the argument as to whether or not competitive cheerleading is a sport hit close to home with me.
The eye rolls or smirks I received when telling people I was covering a competitive cheerleading event only reinforced my own misguided view.
But it wasn’t until I attended a few cheerleading competitions before I began to realize the error in my thinking. Finally, it was my 4-year-old daughter who convinced me, after I asked her one day what she wanted to be when she grew up.
You guessed it — a cheerleader.
I don’t want her growing up having to defend something she is passionate about, something she is working hard at, and something that could enrich her life.
So if that day comes when my daughter is doing flips, splits and being hoisted high up into the air by her teammates — I’ll be there in the stands, cheering.