I used to be one of those people who rolled their eyes when someone bragged about their little girl being a cheerleader. It seemed so demeaning and frivolous. Costumes loaded with sequins, make up, high hair and glitter everywhere. What was the point except to put young girls on exhibit? Maybe it was more for the moms –for those aging women with memories of pom poms and Friday night football?
Cheerleading is fast becoming a respected sport. Note the feature article in ESPN’s February issue (you will need to be a member to read this article online). It has grown into the best combination of dance, gymnastics and tumbling and is being considered as a possible NCAA sport.
But after watching and listening I have come to realize that cheerleading is much more than a sport. And not just because my 12-year-old granddaughter, Miranda, joined Kehler’s Dragons cheerleading squad. At first I just picked her up at practice when her parents couldn’t. This year, with her Mom in nursing school, I have joined thousands of other parents and grandparents on the sidelines, watching and, dare I say it, cheering for our children as they perform.
I have also spent those hours in the company of hundreds of laughing, happy and self confident children ranging from 3 years to 16 years old. And this time, these children, have forced me to do a 180 degree turn. At my age, that isn’t easy but here I go.
Every week, all across the country, thousands of girls and some boys get together to practice and perform with their cheerleading squads. They learn routines, moves and exercises. This very physical activity gets them fit; it also teaches them some invaluable lessons, lessons that will never leave them.
Cheerleading teaches trust – children tossing other children into the air and knowing that they will catch and be caught. It teaches the value of team work – none of them can do this alone. They need each other. Standing side by side, united in their cause, older girls help and hold the younger ones. Younger squad members cheer for the older ones and dance for joy — not when they win but when they successfully complete their routine.
Young and old, the cheerleaders learn respect – for each other, for themselves. And if the parents and grandparents are watching, they learn something too. Across the stadium or arena, you can see these children bridge all the differences we have sometimes found so hard to overcome — culture, money, race, size and beauty — all united in their love for their chosen sport.
So I say, three cheers for cheerleading!