the suzi parker files

Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

Cheerleading Needs a Champion: Three Cheers for George W. Bush

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Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader.

Just ask my mom, who proudly cheered on her Rison High School Wildcats for four years. She’s always contended that cheerleading was a sport just as much as football or basketball even back in the 1950s, when girls wore long skirts, shook their pompoms, and yelled into a megaphone.

Cheerleading has come a long way since the days when cheerleaders were chosen by football players instead of by competitive tryouts. The 2000 “Bring It On” movie — and its four straight-to-video sequels — about competing high school cheerleading teams showed that cheerleading isn’t exactly a cakewalk around the football field. It takes stamina and endurance to the tenth power.

But is it a sport? Not according to a federal judge in Connecticut, who ruled last week that cheerleading should not count as a sport under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions. Quinnipiac University wanted to replace its women’s volleyball team with a competitive cheerleading squad. District Judge Stefan Underhill said doing so would not be sufficient for the university to meet federal Title IX requirements.

The rub: The NCAA’s Title IX guidelines ensure that universities receiving federal funds offer equal athletic opportunities to male and female students. Among the guidelines is a stipulation that each team’s primary goal must be to compete, not just to support other teams. For now, most cheerleading squads exist to root for athletes in other sports.

Cheerleading has a long, schizophrenic history.

Women weren’t even allowed to cheer until 1923 when the University of Minnesota gave them permission. Men, however, had been cheering since the late 1800s. World War II offered women the opportunity to conquer the male dominated world of cheerleading when most of the male cheerleaders went off to war.

Presidents George W. Bush (Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.), Dwight D. Eisenhower (West Point) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (Harvard) cheered, as did Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at her Brooklyn high school. Former Sen. Trent Lott and Mississippi’s senior Sen. Thad Cochran were cheerleaders at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

Thankfully, the stereotypical image of cheerleaders has transformed over the years. Remember the 1970s Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders in their blue and white hot pants and halter tops, or movies like “Satan’s Cheerleaders,” featuring buxom babes throwing water balloons at football players?

No more. Cheerleading, these days, is nothing to turn a pert nose up to.

More than 64,000 high school girls participated last school year in competitive spirit squads. It’s a multimillion industry with Memphis-based Varsity Brands, the only publicly traded company in the cheerleading universe, leading the charge. Millions of people tune into ESPN’s coverage of cheerleading competition, which includes dangerous basket tosses, pyramids and tumbling.

In the 25th Annual Catastrophic Sports Injury Report (funded by a grant from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and others) released last year, high school and college cheerleaders accounted for more than half of the 112 catastrophic injuries sustained in girls’ and womens’ sports during the past 25 years.

The report’s lead researcher, Dr. Frederick O. Mueller, director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, wrote in the “Journal of Athletic Training” that “cheerleading is the most dangerous female sport when we look at the number of catastrophic injuries.”

The battle lines are clearly being drawn in the cheerleading world with its myriad issues, including injury prevention, coach qualifications and even the sport’s future name – competitive cheer, competitive stunt and tumbling or sport cheering.

Judge Underhill said last week that cheerleading may one day qualify as a sport. “Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students,” he wrote in his decision.

An ambassador-negotiator is desperately needed to assist cheerleading transform into a competitive sport.

I vote for George W. Bush to lead the charge. Hailing from Texas, the former cheerleader is a natural for the cause.

If Bush could successfully negotiate the complexities of the NCAA and the various factions of the cheerleading world to create a bonafide sport, it would be a mission accomplished worth cheering.


Written by suziparker1313

March 6, 2011 at 10:30 pm

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