To those sneering haters out there who say cheerleading is not a sport, try telling that to the millions of highly strung teenage girls – and boys – out there polishing their pom poms, artificially whitening their teeth and plunging their fingers down their throats after each meal in a desperate attempt to stay socially relevant.
Unfortunately, cheerleading suffers from a rather serious stigma – for which Hollywood directors are to blame – which has prevented it from taking its rightful place in the pantheon of world sports. If bad Hollywood movies starring Kirsten Dunst and the like have taught us anything, a high school cheerleading squad consists of a dozen or so taut yet dim-witted young girls, one or two quirky gay guys, and the token jock who “does it for the chicks” but is actually suffering from latent homosexuality. Not that there’s anything wrong with late on-set gayness.
But perceptions aside, US studies (where else) have revealed that half of all serious sports injuries are in fact cheerleading-related. And before you smirk and say “yeah, right”, let’s have a look at the facts. Budding college footballers walk around at high school with their chests puffed out, high-fivin’ each other in the locker-rooms and bragging about how much they bench, but these pussies wear shoulder pads and helmets, for pete’s sakes! Cheerleaders, on the other hand, have nothing in the way of protective gear to shield them from a fall. As a cheerleading veteran, this writer boasts an exhaustive list of serious injuries – ranging as far back as her pre-training bra days – that would make your grandpa’s WWII stories sound like Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. The war wound which ended this patriot’s career came in the form of a horrific shoulder injury at cheering practice. It hasn’t been the same since.
And considering the vast potential for injury, the shelf-life of a cheerleader is considerably shorter than that of most athletes today. The majority of cheerleading careers end after high school, or college, possibly. This is not surprising considering the risk of serious injury and dwindling amounts of collagen. It’s for the best though. We want to eventually “kick the footy around” with our kids someday too.
But not only do cheerleaders have to deal with the crushing, often violent on-field blows – such as falling from the top of a 12-person pyramid – but there is the off-field politics to contend with, too. Make no mistake, the cheerleading world is not all strawberry lip-gloss and stolen virginities – it is tough, tougher than the flesh on Germaine Greer’s labia. And while we all felt for Simon Katich when he was told he’d missed the 25-man Cricket Australia contract list, that’s a problem thousands of all-American boys and girls face every day when they look eagerly on the locker-room wall, scrolling down the list to see if they “made the cut.” To miss that list is to become a social pariah – and if I had a dollar for every time I saw a cheer hopeful’s life crushed upon the realisation that they hadn’t made the team, I’d have enough money to end the fucking NBA lockout. No shit.
Sure, you could continue to keep your cruel stereotypes and dismiss cheerleading altogether, or you can look past the training bras and toned thighs and see a credible sport that combines physicality with the dog-eat-dog nature of American high-school politics.
And if you’re still not convinced that cheerleading is indeed a sport, then *said in an upbeat, Southern Californian accent* “Bring It On!™”
By Diana Clark with Dave Edwards