NYC143 cover image See all stories from issue #143, March, 1999

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Three Cheers for Cheerleaders
Tichelle Porter
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2-4-6-8

Who should you appreciate?

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Cheerleaders!

Yes, that’s right, cheerleaders.

We make a difference, too. If it weren’t for cheerleaders, most people would not enjoy themselves as much at sporting events. We are the ones who get the crowd involved. We pump the guys up when they are scoreless.

So how come we get dissed? I don’t know what it’s like at other schools, but at my high school there is absolutely no support for the cheerleaders. When we run onto the basketball court, some of the students in the stands actually boo us.

I don’t understand it. Everyone in my school supports the boys’ basketball team; it’s all the students talk about. Our job is to rally that support. Yet people will yell things like, “Oh boy, here comes the pep squad!” in a sarcastic tone. Or they’ll just holler, “Go sit down!” They say that they came to see the basketball players, not us.

Sometimes, when we are performing at half time, guys from the crowd will walk out on the court and start playing basketball like we’re not even there. We do have our faithful supporters who eventually get them to sit down, but it hurts to be treated like that.

Girls’ Sports Don’t Get Much Support

Maybe cheerleading isn’t taken seriously because it’s a girl thing. Girls’ sports in general don’t get as much support as boys’ sports do. The girls’ basketball team at my school doesn’t get treated much better than we do. Students fill up the bleachers and the aisles when the boys are playing, but hardly anyone even knows when the girls have a game.

And who came up with the idea not to have cheerleaders cheer for the girls’ games? We never do and I don’t know why. After all, they need support too. But at least the girls on the basketball team don’t get booed when they run out on the court the way the cheerleaders do.

I want cheerleaders to get the same respect that the players get. The people who heckle us may not realize it, but we’re athletes too. We sweat just as much as the guys we cheer for.

Being a cheerleader is hard work—just like playing a sport. It takes a lot of discipline and practice. At least four days out of the week, we meet in the dance studio or cafeteria after school. We stretch, do 50 jumping jacks and run laps—and that’s before we start working on our routines.

After we are finished with our workout, we begin practicing our cheers. We yell, we stomp, we slap our hands and thighs until our cheers are perfect.

image by Beatrice Bass

Then we do our flips and splits! That is the hardest part. We can’t be sloppy! Our legs have to be perfectly positioned in the air, every time we do any type of flip. If a split is done the wrong way, a person could seriously hurt her thigh muscles. (Trust me, that is painful.)

I’ll say it again: cheerleaders are athletes. We don’t just stand around looking pretty. I’ve played basketball competitively—on my junior high school team, on my high school team, and in a community league—so I know what I’m talking about. I train just as hard for cheerleading as I ever did for basketball.

In some ways, cheerleading is harder. Basketball players can tell the coach when they need someone to substitute for them. They get bench time if they need it. They get breaks during time outs and half time. But cheerleaders must have non-stop energy. They have to yell and stomp and be loud throughout the entire game. Oh, and smile while they are doing it.

So why do I stick with it? Because, even though being a cheerleader is hard, the positive things about it definitely outweigh the negative.

We Will Rock You

For one thing, I really like our routines. They’re fun to do and look great.

The first time I saw the high school squad in action my freshman year, I knew I had to become a cheerleader. I liked the variety of their steps and how the routines were put together. The entire squad was moving to the same beat, but every other row was doing a different step.

I remember that they were doing a cheer that goes, “It starts in your head, ends in your feet, and goes by the name of the eagle beat. We’re gonna rock your body.” The girls were so full of energy, as they rhythmically slapped their thighs and knees, that I stood in the aisle, rocking my body!

I also like our uniforms. Every girl wears a navy blue pleated skirt, with gray and white trimming on the bottom. The shirts are V-necks with the letter “R” on the chest. Everyone wears the same sneakers and socks and holds a navy blue pompom in her left hand and a white one in her right. When we all line up, coordinated from head to toe, it looks beautiful.

We’re a Team, And Should Be Treated Like One

But being a cheerleader is about a lot more than cheers and uniforms. It’s taught me what it means to be a friend. Through all of the booing and negative feedback we get, we cheerleaders stick together.

I like the togetherness I feel with the rest of the girls. We laugh together when things are going well, and cry together when one of us is in trouble.

Whenever I have a problem, I know I can go to one of my fellow cheerleaders. And the advisor of the squad is more like my big sister than an advisor. I can tell her anything and know that it will stay between the two of us.

As far as I’m concerned, the cheerleading squad feels like a team and acts like a team. So, how come we’re not treated like one? The boys’ varsity works hard. The girls’ varsity works hard. The cheerleaders work hard. We should all be given the support and respect we deserve, because we all earn it.

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(NYC-1999-03-13)