Cheer Discrimination in High Schools

I saw a news piece on cheerleading injuries last night on TV. The newscaster mentioned that 29 states’ high school athletic associations recognize cheerleading as a sport. My state is not one of them.

The high school I went to does not recognize cheerleading as a sport. It’s considered a “club.” Cheerleading is listed in the yearbook right between chess club and choir. Frankly, it’s insulting.

I have 3 big problems with this:

#1. Cheerleading is a sport (over half the states agree). Go watch a cheerleading practice and tell me otherwise. When you work hard and leave your sweat and blood on the mat every practice, it’s a complete slap in the face to be told that you aren’t “by definition” an athlete. According to the school, you’re no more an athlete than the kids in chess club. Ouch.

#2. If a state’s high school athletic association doesn’t consider cheerleading to be a sport, then there can’t be any safety procedures or limitations that are uniformly enforced. And until that happens, there will continue to be an absurd number of unnecessary cheerleading injuries.

#3. Because cheerleading isn’t technically a sport, the cheerleading program is treated like a nuisance by the schools. My younger sister is a varsity cheerleader at the high school I went to. She has to fundraise her butt off every season because the school provides absolutely zero funding to the cheerleading program.

We just had astro-turf installed on our football field—it cost over a million dollars and the football players didn’t have to fundraise for a single dollar of it. The cheerleaders had to fundraise for over a year to get enough money to buy themselves new practice mats. The old mats were crappy and unsafe. If a flyer fell on those mats, it would be no better than falling on the hardwood floor. When the school was asked if they would contribute any money, their response was “well, if the mats are unsafe, then don’t do any stunts.” Seriously?!

I mean, the examples here go on and on… If the softball team needs new equipment, the school pays; if the cheerleaders need new uniforms, they have to raise the money. If the volleyball team’s nets are looking a little ragged, the school pays; if the cheerleaders need new poms, they have to come up with the money. Not to sound like a crybaby, but it’s unfair and ridiculous.

It’s a dangerous game we play.

It’s time to address a serious topic.

Cheerleading is a dangerous sport. That’s a fact. According to CBS News and the US Sports Academy, cheerleading is the 2nd most dangerous sport, second only to football. Cheerleading accounts for 66% of “catastrophic injuries” in female athletes, which means injuries to the spine, neck, and head. Last year, there were 37,000 emergency room visits by cheerleaders.

With cheerleading being the most popular sport for girls, and over 3 million cheerleaders age 6+ in the US, this is a huge problem. Like I mentioned a few posts ago, cheerleading isn’t just “Go, fight, win!” on the sidelines anymore. Competitive cheerleading is an intense sport. Injuries abound when you’re doing things like jumping, tumbling, and stunting.

When cheer squads are throwing crazy stunts like the one above (notice the two girls on the ends, diving head first toward the ground), is it any surprise that there are so many injuries??

The sad reality of cheerleading is that you’re going to get hurt—there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. During my cheer career, I fractured my nose, dislocated my hip, broke more fingers than I can remember, sprained my ankle and wrists, jammed elbows and fingers—I can’t even count the number of bloody noses, goose eggs, and bruises I came home with. 7 years after retiring from cheerleading, I’m still feeling the effects of it. Even as a coach, I’m still getting injured—I have a sprained wrist as I write this.

The worst part is, I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I’ve seen girls snap their ankles during tumbling passes, back spots have belly button rings ripped out of their stomachs, and flyers smash their heads on the mat.

(Um, is it just me or does she look like she’s still cheering?)

So, what’s the problem? I think that the biggest problem is that many coaches have no idea what they’re doing. A lot of them are former cheerleaders, and they assume that they know what they’re doing—but guess what, cheerleading is nothing today like it was 10 or 20 years ago.

Coaches are having girls throw stunts when they don’t understand the proper form and technique. They’re not teaching it correctly and they aren’t taking enough precautions. Even great coaches, however, can’t guarantee that their cheerleaders aren’t going to get hurt. Accidents happen.

I think it’s safe to say that stunts are the biggest cause of injury. Though they’re often hurt, flyers aren’t the only ones that get injured. According to the US Sports Academy, the impact that bases experience as they catch their flyer is greater than the impact of being tackled by a professional football player. If you’re a base, you’re going to get hurt whether or not you do your job. If you don’t do your job, you’re going to get hurt. If you do your job as a base, guess what—you’re still going to get hurt. You know why? Because out of the 4 or 5 girls in your stunt group, there’s always at least one girl who isn’t going to do her job correctly.

Even if you don’t get seriously injured during your cheer career, it’s likely that you will feel the painful effects of cheerleading as you get older. Unfortunately, this is something that I know all about. As a result of being a base for many years, I have carpal tunnel in both wrists and a pre-arthritic right elbow. From years of high impact jumping and tumbling, and from absorbing the impact of flyers while basing, I suffer from cartilage loss, inflammation, and constant pain in both knees.

Now, I’m not talking slap on a knee brace and some Icy Hot and it’s all okay kind of pain. I’m talking can’t walk a mile without my knee swelling up like a balloon and being couch-ridden the rest of the day, probably going to need a knee replacement in my 30s, my 80 year old grandma’s joints are in better condition than mine kind of pain.

Taking the aftereffects into consideration, would I join a different sport if I could go back in time? No way, I wouldn’t change a thing. My only regret is that my body wouldn’t let me cheer even longer. However, it would’ve been nice if someone would’ve told me that these things could eventually happen as a result of the stress cheer puts on your body.

The Age Old Debate – Is Cheerleading a Sport?

I love when people tell me that cheerleading isn’t a sport. Now, I’m not one of those crazies that will freak out about it, but I will probably tell you that you’re an idiot and invite you to sit in on one of my practices so that I can prove you wrong.

I think that when many people think of cheerleading, they think of this:

Well, my friends, that’s sideline cheerleading, and I would agree that that is NOT a sport. What IS a sport, is this:

That’s competitive cheerleading, and it IS a sport—whether or not you’d like to admit it. Let’s just look at a few of the things competitive cheerleaders do that should make it clear that it’s a sport.

#1. Stunting. I know I’m a little biased… but really, you can’t tell me that an activity that requires you to throw your teammate 20 feet in the air shouldn’t count as a sport. This obviously requires amazing strength, technique,  and teamwork.

#2. Tumbling. Hello, gymnastics is a sport . . . and I don’t think that anyone can deny that someone who can throw a flawless round off back handspring full is a badass athlete.

#3. Jumps. Oh, cheer deniers, you’re right . . . throwing hyper-extended jumps requires absolutely no athletic prowess. 

Please – I’d love to see a volleyball player do one of these. It takes flexibility and tremendous strength in your legs, abs, and hip flexors to be able to hurl your body off the ground and whip your legs up like this.

I rest my case.