January 2021


possibly make it not a sport?” I couldn’t agree more! Cheerleading involves physical exertion, skill, and competition. Can you hold an entire person in the air over your head? What if I asked you to yell and dance while holding them? Former University of Arkansas cheerleader Cheyenne Jester really hit the nail on the head when she said,​“​ I think the hardest part about being a cheerleader is the lack of credit we get. Some people think we just stand on the sidelines to look pretty. What they don’t understand is the time and effort we put in. They don’t understand the pressure we put our bodies through—the wear and tear of cheerleading. They do not understand that it takes coordination, technique, strength, and a lot of practice to cheer and execute skills. Not only are we there to support other teams, but we are also focusing on our technique, execution of routines, while also paying attention to the sport we are cheering for to make sure we are cheering the correct cheers at the right time. Routines are to be memorized on top of motions, (and) skills, all the while being a part of another game!” Shera’s answer reiterated this sentiment as well. “There are so many skills and qualities that they have to have, not just jumps and tumbling. They have to be well-rounded and do every part of the routine.” Coaches and athletes alike talked about the hours they spend practicing and working to hone their skills. Haley said that she often meets up with her collegiate teammates for additional practices, especially stunts and tumbling, and that many on her team continue to perfect their technique working with private coaches. A competitive cheerleader will also spend time in both cheer and tumbling classes. Shera commented that she strives for her athletes to, “find a balance between working hard, but not being overworked, so they still have time to be involved in their school.” She also pointed out that, “commitment plays a role and if they aren’t committed to a full year, it impacts the team; teaching the life lesson that if you start something, you finish it.” Both coaches stressed the importance of teamwork. Joni said, “The athlete must take their placement on the team seriously. This is not a sport with an ‘I’ in teamwork! They must always work together to accomplish their goals and hit their routines correctly.”

One key example of the role of teamwork in cheerleading is stunting. In order to stunt properly, a cheerleader must have a strong core, legs, and arms. It involves a mix of partner stunts comprising a flyer (the person in the air) and a base (the person holding them up) and group stunts, where multiple people serve as the base. Part of what makes stunts so spectacular is the ability of cheerleaders to build their strength and hone technique to simultaneously perform skills. Often, you see multiple stunt groups connected in the air by their flyers, or a flyer that changes groups in mid-air. Stunts like these are called pyramids. Pyramids are both amazing and dangerous. If the timing is off in the group, the chance of the stunt collapsing increases significantly. A​ ccording to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries, “female cheerleaders make up 50% of the catastrophic head, neck and spine injuries suffered, specifically by female athletes.” The NCCSIR conducted a 31 year study on all sports from 1982 to 2013 and found that in terms of catastrophic injury to female athletes, 64.2% of high school and 71.2% of collegiate level injuries were cheer related. ​FactRetriever.com ​even places cheerleading as the second most dangerous sport with football as number one, and the cheerleader at the top of the pyramid is ten times more likely to get a concussion than a football player. Like in other high-risk sports, cheerleaders enjoy pushing themselves to work hard and accomplish difficult tasks. Haley said,​ “Honestly, it’s taught me a lot about myself. It keeps me going, keeps me in shape, and just focused on life in general. After I tore my second ACL, it’s what pushed me to get better, through therapy and stuff because that was really hard for me, but I knew that I had to keep working to get back to cheer.” For local cheer mom Jamey Tice, her girls were active and high energy, so she really “wanted to give them something constructive to work towards.” Her girls love going to the gym. Her 12-year- old daughter, Jacey, said, “To be a good cheerleader, you have to be able to focus and always have a good attitude.” Jacey also said that some of her closest friends are from her cheer team, and that makes cheerleading a lot of fun. She added, “We spend a lot of time together and get to know each other’s likes and personalities,


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