Kid has had an amazing time as a flag football cheerleader this past season.
I know, I know… many of you reading this blog maybe have a lot of biased opinions that are very steeped in stereotypes about cheerleaders and the sport of cheerleading itself.
Yes, I said sport.
I watched this season as Kid had an incredible time, and I expected her to have fun, learn a thing or two, ya know. Maybe finally get the hang of a cart-wheel.*
The very first day, with all of the girls** gathered in front of the coach, who was an active duty volunteer and handled it very matter-of-factly. I heard a lot of talk about cheerleaders being “girly” and “peppy” and how they “always smile”. I groaned to myself a lot that day, and almost rolled the eyebrows right off of my big ol’ forehead (or “fivehead” as The Guy affectionately calls it).
But in true drill sergeant style, there were push-ups, there were laps to run, and there were basics to learn, learn, learn. To anyone out there who doesn’t believe that cheerleading is a sport I will refer you to the athleticism required to repeatedly do the jumps demanded of these girls. It was a great way for these girls to burn off their energy, and wonderful exercise for them. They always came home ready for bed (bonus!) What was more, they were having fun doing it.
Eventually they were broken down into squads by age groups, and Kid’s squad was about a dozen girls, give or take. The coach of the smaller squad was less of the “you all are going to be girly” mind, and made a lot of fun cheers. She enlisted a parent volunteer who used to be a cheerleader. We all made ribbons for their hair and took turns bringing snacks, and they cheered at all of the flag football games.
What happened here was a group of young girls put on their first uniforms, which gave them pride, and they worked together, building a sense of team unity, helping each other learn routines and different moves. As the season moved along the became confident in their ability to jump, kick, and yell their hearts out. They learned how to yell the “right” way (without hurting your voice). Some of them were only able to master the moves or the words at first (remember, we are dealing with third and fourth graders), and eventually they put them together. Maybe it is because I am a mum, but really, the whole things was adorable. *squee*
They developed self-esteem. I saw girls who were shy run and grab a crowd of parents’ attention, and rouse them to cheering. I saw them have the courage to make mistakes, recover, and move on, which is a life skill that even some adults I know don’t have. I didn’t learn that until high school marching band. Recovery is a tough lesson to master.
Yes, I also saw some pettiness, I saw some mean-spirited actions, and I saw a girl kick another girl and tell her she was stupid for messing up… I am not naive enough to think that this kind of behaviour does not happen… but to be fair, I also saw the same thing on the co-ed soccer team that Kid participated in and also on the football teams that she cheered for. This behaviour is neither the sole property of girls nor cheerleaders. Pettiness and being a jerk is an equal opportunity trait, and we as adults, especially those of us who labour in social justice circles, are keenly aware of that.
Mostly, I saw how being part of a cheerleading team made my girl a better person, a more confident person (and a bit of a better speller, HA! Just kidding, she was already an ace at that one!) and a girl who knew how to be a supportive team player. At the end of season banquet when they all got their participation trophies (that reminded Kid of Amy’s mom from S1 of Buffy) they all stood around with the megaphones and altered a cheer and devoted it to their coaches, thanking them.
I honestly feel that cheerleading — even among F*eminists, who claim to be about equal opportunities and about supporting choices for women and girls, and who want them to be proud of those choices — gets a really harsh rap. It gets treated as a non-sport, as if it is an accessory worn by the boys’ and mens’ sports of the world. I have even heard cheerleaders called mouthpieces of schools, as an excuse to force a girl to cheer for her rapist. Cheerleaders are automatically presumed to be of a certain subset of people, and dismissed as stupid, ditzy, rich, stuck up, slutty, gay if you are a guy… you get the point.
As a woman who grew up as part of the Title IX Generation, I am appalled that we are not doing more to recognized cheerleading for the sport that it is, for the athleticism that it requires, and for the team spirit it inspires in the people who participate in it. I am also appalled that we do not do more to insist on giving it its due as part of athletic programs, to make sure that it is considered an equal to other sports programs, and that the people who participate in it are not stigmatized. We don’t promote the competitive events, we assume that team spirit is where it ends.
Watching my cheerleader this season confirms that there should be no shame, and that she has every reason to feel the pride that she does.
*No. She did not.
**There were only girls on the squads this year, but I checked, and the team is open to any boys and young men who are interested. I suspect that social conditioning in the military community probably curbs the interest. Maybe? Hmm…
Photo © Brandann R. Hill-Mann. All Rights Reserved.