I generally keep the fact that I used to be a cheerleader to myself. It's not something I'm particularly proud of, as cheerleading in the 1960s was mostly about little pleated skirts and personality. I am of the generation of women who prefer to be known for their intellect and professional accomplishments rather than their pom-poms.
Cheerleading, however, has evolved, as a concept--it's become more athletic and competitive, involving a range of gymnastic skills and strength. It's less about popularity and more about coordination and discipline, at least theoretically--with Texas as possible exception to the rule, of course.
was surprised to see Frank Deford, on NPR, equivocate on the subject of whether
cheerleading is a true sport. I thought that battle had been won decades ago,
when high schools and colleges began implementing Title IX, and all female
sports (and wannabe sports) took a major upward leap in proficiency and
aggressive athleticism. Deford's point was a good one, though: Colleges that
declare cheerleading a sport can then justify eliminating other female
sports--and spending more on expensive male-only programs, like football.
While discussions on gender equity in sports will likely go on forever, there's no denying that cheerleading has developed into a team activity requiring significant physical ability--a sport.
am always amused by the passion with which people--OK, men--will squabble about
whether a particular activity is a "sport" or not. I fail to see how 22
outsized, fully padded bruisers in $200 helmets, moving a pigskin bladder two
feet while knocking each other down (and sometimes out) is undeniably a sport --but
things like archery, hunting, synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics are
A lot of the arguing has to do with money--who will pay to see what--and the necessity of winners and losers, which means that dog racing is a sport, but marching bands are entertainment, even though every band member on the field is engaged in a complex, physically strenuous activity requiring stamina, precision, coordination, memory, the ability to read music and skin thick enough that tuba jokes bounce right off.
I once had an acrimonious dispute with the Athletic Director in my high school over whether band members should be eligible for varsity letters. The block H, he explained, was reserved for true athletes (as were the varsity jackets with the leather sleeves). He suggested that the band get nylon windbreakers to show their spirit--and eventually admitted that he was worried that the football team might not be proud to don varsity jackets if bassoonists could wear them, too. He found no irony in the fact that the 100 members of the marching band spent two months trailing the football team around for the purpose of playing the fight song with frozen fingers every time Biff kicked a field goal.
In K-12 World, any competitive activity that involves skills, strength or teamwork ought to qualify as a sport. Why not? American schools spend much more on sports than schools in other countries. If we insist that sports engage kids whose strengths are kinesthetic rather than academic--and believe that sports build confidence, teamwork and discipline--then we ought to offer as many "sports" as we possibly can, so their benefits are broadly available.
It took about five years, but the music department eventually won the campaign to wear the same varsity letter as the football team. Our block H had a small pair of eighth notes to distinguish it from the others: letters with golf balls, the winged feet and-- eventually-- the little mortarboards of the Quiz Bowl kids. I'd call that S-U-C-C-E-S-S.