Friday, May 17, 2013

Baskets of CHEER

You know, whenever my mother, sister, and I would go to events with family that had raffle tickets for baskets, we would always have the worst luck in winning any baskets of cheer. I also had the worst luck in eighth grade when I wrecked my lower back catching a girl while doing a basket mount in cheerleading. There, I made the title of the post relevant.

(I hope you screamed these letters)


Sure, Lil' Jon and Stone Cold Steve Austin never did this stuff, but they screamed it enough to be proud of it. That's what some ladies (and some gentlemen) do in this sporting compliment. It's called Cheerleading. Back in the day, they used to stand on the sidelines and hold up giant letters and megaphones during sporting events. They may still do that today, but the inclusion of gymnastics and insistence on eye-candy has made this once-simple club an extreme sport of sorts. In fact, this has moved up the ranks in becoming one of the most dangerous extra-curricular activities an individual can take part in. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it beats martial arts and football. While injury may not be as frequent as the two sports I have mentioned, the injuries suffered doing various cheerleading routines can certainly be more devastating. Spotters and other people surrounding the acrobatics are absolutely necessary, but things can still go awry when gymnastics are involved or when there are mid-air acrobatics. Cheerleading may not exactly be a sport to some people, but it has certainly become a staple at many sporting events such as basketball, rugby, and American football.

Let's take a look at the world of CHEER. It isn't always about keeping your joints locked and your teeth beaming, you know.

Get ready to shake your head: the original cheering squad was all-male. That's right. Women had nothing to do with this practice. Then again, this practice started in the mid-to-late 1800's, when women had next to no rights in the United States. As time progressed, cheerleading became more of a female-dominated practice. Proper dress in the olden days looked similar to what you would see high school and college bands wear today. It had later changed to sweaters and long skirts (long pants for men), and forms of gymnastics began to be adopted by squads around the World War II-era. Although there are athletics and gymnastics involved in cheerleading, there has been one thing that has never changed: the spirit. Oh Lordy, the spirit is here to stay. The one thing that makes cheerleading a form of religion to cheerleaders is their pride and their spirit to whom they cheer. From an outsider's view, it's absolutely disgusting and almost puppet-like. If you ever watched the film Bring It On or any of the other spawned (and awful) sequels, you will probably understand, but only slightly. Has anyone ever heard of a spirit stick? I'm not even going to get into it. I would have to start talking about rituals and various holy practices.

A common stereotype that has accompanied the world of cheer over the past several decades is that the common cheerleader looks like a porcelain doll. Most people believe that a girl must be skinny with perfect skin and hair. If you want to go even further...a perfect smile paired with a high-pitched voice and has dated every guy imaginable. These stereotypes have been bludgeoned into many heads of Americans, and recently, once cheerleader has been targeted due to "not fitting in." Kelsey Williams, a cheerleader for the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team, had been targeted by a critic who claimed that she was "too chunky" for the job.

Here's the picture that started it all:
Photo from New York Daily News
Now, I'm not a male, but I see nothing wrong with this. The last time I checked, all women come in different shapes and sizes. She looks perfectly healthy, and she obviously loves what she does. Aside from cheering, she, along with the other members of the squad, do humanitarian work to represent the Thunder organization. Not only is she willing to "shake her thing" for team spirit, she's also an inspiration to young girls and basketball fans in the charity work that she does. If you have an issue that she has a thicker body than most cheerleaders you will see in sports, you may be a little prejudiced. It is rather unfortunate that there is a predisposed idea of what a typical cheerleader (male or female) must look like. If you have the spirit, the inspiration, and the skill, who honestly cares where the person is in the looks department? Humanity can be confusing at times. There is the thought that cheerleaders are "eye candy" that keep the men in their seats during the games, but not every sport (and every team in a league that has cheerleaders) has them. That thought cannot be an excuse. For now, the cheerleader stereotype lives on.
[Aside: Williams is pretty. If she's "fat," then I must be morbidly obese.]

Like I have mentioned previously, cheerleading has become rather extreme over the past 125 years. Starting with basic locomotive noises (I'm not joking, you guys), to harmonic singsong, to catchy chants, the usage of acrobatics comes in to fire up crowds and spread the spirit and cheer.  This all comes with a price. Whenever you do something that involves heights and shifting your center of gravity at a fast pace, you're at a major risk of injury. Back and neck injuries can be very common for fliers and patrons that grace the tops of pyramids and mounts. Strains and muscular injuries can also be a risk for those sporting quick spurts of flexibility and those who must spot fliers. In countless cheerleading competitions around the country, you will see routines packed to the top with girls flying every which way. Practice makes perfect, but those freak accidents still happen. You can even see freak occurrences at professional events. It's never pretty, either. Focus and lack of fear is needed to prevent any injury. Nerves get in the way, but in a high-risk world of cheer, you either stay focused and spirited or break your back. [Really.]

I did basic cheerleading for less than a year (and you think "What? YOU?!" and start laughing hysterically at me) but it was certainly an interesting experience. It's a fun mix of endurance and theatrics. As a musical theater practitioner, something like this was right up my alley. With that said, cheerleading is definitely not for everybody. It takes dedication, skill, time, and a heck of a lot of focus. There are its quirks and its occasional "chink in the armor," but it has certainly become a necessity in sports and a pure religion for the practitioners and the families involved in it. Cheering culture can begin when the girl (or boy) is at a very young age and can become as obsessive as a college football following. Again, this isn't for everybody. This isn't your grandmother's cheerleading culture. Something like this is taken very seriously, and at times it absolutely has to. With risks of injuries and risks of hurting others, you're either in it or you're out. Some don't consider it a sport--and I somewhat agree with this--instead it is seen as a compliment to the sport. The reason being is that the crowd can be a definite factor for momentum, and cheering can add that extra boost of yelling (or testosterone) to the atmosphere. See? It's not as perky and as air-headed as you would think. Cheering is actually good.

Let's HEAR IT for some SPIR-IT! Woo!
(insert cartwheel)


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