Dare You Let Your Child Be a Cheerleader? Friday Follies

OK, so who could miss today’s headlines, including, no less, The Wall Street Journal, about the drama being played out on the debate stages across the country…. To Jump while Cheerleading…or Not?

Since today’s the day for Friday Follies, when I talk about my foibles, this is a great headliner to “tell all” about my penchant for “little things” that pull the rebel from my backbone; make me stand up straight, stick my chin out, and march directly for the Principal’s office with my protest sign…regardless of the consequences!

In an article titled “What’s the point of cheerleading?” by Hannah Karp, it appears there is a brewing country-wide alarm about the rapidly increasing number of personal injuries being incurred by cheerleaders.

The debate, as it is being described, seems centered on whether cheerleading has lost its central purpose as it is becoming more and more a competitive, gymnastic sport. According to Hannah Karp’s article, there are some who not only think this is the case, but have taken action to bring cheerleading “back” to its roots.

She states in her article: “Last month the University of Connecticut announced it would replace the school’s 17-year-old cheerleading team with a non-athletic “spirit squad” that’s open to non-gymnasts.

“The emphasis on stunting had detracted from the major purpose,” says John Saddlemire, Connecticut’s vice president for student affairs. The focus, he says, should be on “fan interaction and truly on cheering and cheerleading.”

On the other side of the debate is the cheerleaders’ enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing. There are long hours of practice all year long, and intense competition for spots on cheerleading squads.

And, perhaps for some an element even more important… winning a position on a cheerleading squad… and doing an outstanding job… can involve scholarships.

All right, I have to play contrarian here. I want to see the bylaws…the part where it says “Cheerleaders cannot jump. They cannot bend. They cannot display any gymnastic talent in any manner that might result in the potential for injury.” Fact is, yelling can cause injury. Waving ones arms in close proximity to another can cause injury. Foot stomping can cause injury. Doing the splits can cause injury (if in fact your body can accomodate such a move). And let’s face it, cheerleaders have been doing those things forever!

I think there may be concurrence that cheerleaders are the “lead singers” for the “Team.” They come on ahead, and during intermissions for Fan interaction…to make sure the crowd hangs around and stays involved. And…I’ve gotta say…nothing thrills me, engages me, or keeps me engaged,  more than watching talented young people display cheerleading skills, especially with gymnastics, they have practiced and perfected.

So I’m not sure what the problem is. Maybe there’s a perception that if we get fired up and cheer for the cheerleaders, we’ll forget about the “Team.”

I guess I better just speak for myself, but “it just ain’t so, Joe.”

I get fired up watching talent — in the cheerleaders and in the team! I happen to think that talented cheerleaders reflect well on a school.  And I can’t think of a single time when a cheerleader…or cheerleading coach’s…behavior on the floor was less than exemplary. 

And… whether the majority may be girls or young women…don’t they have the same right to informed choice of engaging in an activity that may result in injury as the boys or young men?

Further…let’s face it…entertaining the crowd today isn’t as easy as it was in the past. Crowds have higher levels of expectation when it comes to performance…by anyone who’s on the “stage” in front of them…cheerleaders, team, referees, coaches.

So…I’m casting my vote for talent. I’m casting my vote to allow young people to make choices in favor of pursuing their passion…whatever it is. I like the spirit in cheerleader stunting…especially when it not only thrills the crowds as it fires them up, but creates the potential for scholarships that can result in opportunities for higher education that might not otherwise be available.

Life has risks. Discipline, practice, and pursuit of an athletic passion can help build character, strength, and understanding of those risks.

Not everyone needs…or wants…to be a cheerleader.  Not in the past nor in the gymnastic manner to which it has evolved.  There are many paths to life’s fulfillment. I simply see no reason to block this one.

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