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Jeff Ward: We Still Have Cheerleaders?

With girls high school sports what it is today, it's time to retire the pom pons!

Oh, man! Am I gonna get it for this one! But when you add the story of fools and angels to an uncanny capacity to speak my mind, we may as well just let the chips fall where they may!

I can’t remember in which of the five newspapers arriving daily on my doorstep I saw it, but one of ‘em ran a photo of local cheerleaders participating in a state competition. The question that immediately popped into mind without any premeditation whatsoever was, “We still have cheerleaders?!”

There was no disrespect intended. It was just the kind of thing you might whisper to yourself when walking into a store still selling cassette tapes, PDAs or bell-bottom blue jeans. You can’t help but think, “I thought we were past that.”

Before Title IX, cheerleading was the scrap that high school administrators threw young women desperate to participate in some sort of athletic endeavor. Throwing any notion of political correctness into our winter wind, there have been any number of movies that demonstrate the kind of connotations that come along with being a cheerleader.

Of course, the irony is, even those stereotypes are obsolete. As Glen Ellyn Patch Editor Samantha Liss so aptly pointed out, most male high school sports spectators look right past the cheerleaders to see what the young women on the drill and dance teams aren’t wearing.

Our magnficent bottom line is, the days of girls being relegated to the sidelines have been relegated to history’s dust bin. Short of football, almost every Patchland high school offers young women a vast array of officially-sanctioned athletic options.

Newspaper coverage of coed high school sports is now virtually equal to that of the boys, the crowds at their games are growing, and we’re celebrating exceptional female athletes right alongside the best of their male counterparts.

To this day, my all-time favorite interview is the one with the 2008 Geneva High School girls cross country state championship team. Those young woman exemplified the traits we want our children to absorb from participating in high school sports: confidence, camaraderie, perseverance and a sense of something greater than themselves.

In fact, I was so inspired by those young women that, since that column, my 5K time plummeted from 28:10 to 24:01. And I’m old!

The good news is, they’re not nearly the only superb Patchland girls high school team.

The York and Lyons girls finished fifth and sixth in the Trib’s 2011 top 10 soccer team poll. The Downers Grove North girls swim team, lead by Gabby Sims, had a pretty good year themselves. Let’s not forget the Glendbard West cross country girls and the Benet Academy girls basketball Redwings, currently ranked No. 9 by the Sun-Times.

So I find myself asking this. Considering how far high school girls have come, with this plethora of options, why would any young woman want to be a cheerleader?

Before you hit the send button, I understand that cheerleading, via the previously mentioned competitions, has turned into something quite a bit more competitive and athletic than it was in my day. But if that’s the case, then let’s change the uniforms and call it something else.

That said, Downer Grove Patch Editor Rob Bykowski's less-than-enthusiastic response about my “Team Gymnastics with Vocals” suggestion was something along the lines of, “Who the heck would want to sign up for that?"

But whatever we call it, it isn’t that important as long as it isn’t “cheerleading.”  Because, no matter how you spin it, in the end, these are the girls end up on the sideline cheering for the boys. And that, my friends, is an anachronism.

If I ever see a line of perky uniformed young men loudly cheering in unison for the Hinsdale Central Red Devils’ girls at the far end of the basketball court, I might just change my mind. Again, I understand that male high school cheerleaders do exist, but there aren't nearly enough of them to undermine my point.

When I look at the Luvabulls, a group of grown women cheering for underperforming and overpaid athletes in little more than their underwear, it’s just sad. And don’t try to tell me it’s a stepping stone to something greater because the only adult cheerleader that’s ever risen above those ranks is former Laker Girl Paula Abdul, and she’s nuts!

So right along with silly Native American mascots, ridiculous hazing rituals, and ignorance of concussion symptoms, it’s finally time to retire the traditional notion of the high school cheerleader. No longer consigned to second class sports status, our high school daughters have far greater things to which to aspire.

Before she went off to college, my former business assistant was also a standout Geneva High School volleyball player. And her wise mother offered her what I consider to be some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: “Don’t cheer for someone else; be the one they cheer for.”

Lou B. January 21, 2012 at 07:44 AM
And so is football you nut job... Or did that not fit into your "I'm cool, I'm a so called 'journalist'" mold.
Lou B. January 21, 2012 at 07:48 AM
Yes, and if you want higher taxes, vote for Tim Moran for school board, the same guy that added the cost (350,000,000) for two empty school buildings to your taxes!
Political PR Machine January 21, 2012 at 02:02 PM
We have a social security shortfall, healthcare issues, a manipulated currency battle going on betweeon European Central bank, USTreasury, and the middle East, who want to depart from petro dollars... we have local, state, and federal financial issues... and the bears still can' t make playoffs and Cubs are back to being lovable losers... so, with all of that, the issue of cheerleader sexism attracts the most attention? I say the Cubs could use more cheerleaders, and the Bears too.
Nolan Day January 21, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Andy, Ken and Jeff, As Patch is supposed to be locally oriented- Let's have a competition on whose local Mayor and Councils waste the most tax payer's money. My bet is on DeWitte and Posse in St Charles.
Political PR Machine January 21, 2012 at 03:59 PM
I think the Mayor should have Cheerleaders...
Jeff Ward January 21, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Ken, He already does! Aldermen Craig Maladra and Dawn Vogelsburg. Jeff
Political PR Machine January 21, 2012 at 04:06 PM
My streets were plowed... I haven't had a lot of crime in our neighborhood... schools are performing well.... students are pretty impressive... there is a quality education being provided, quality community services... fire professionals seem to be doing a great job.... the police are protecting the community in a professional manner... the Government isn't acting out of line... I can' t really complain about the Mayors... I think we need to quit asking them to solve everyone'sproblems, but to blame them seems crazy to me...
Nolan Day January 21, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Ken, These are shared services that are quite common in the Tri Cities area and agreed to be common sense/expected in populated areas. Hardly anyone would complain against those types of community needs being paid for by the masses. I assume you must not live in St Charles not to complain about waste of tax dollars. Is so please have your Mayor speak to ours about spending $5 million+ to help a building contractor make a profit on contaminated land he bought knowing it had problems(Lexingon Homes Proposal) or a $30million dollar Red Gate bridge across the Fox River that will only help 250 residents directly by saving them 5 minutes on their east-west commutes.
Cathy Goodman January 22, 2012 at 04:52 PM
I think the question to ask regarding cheerleading is, "Are they enhancing the sports experience for the boys on the field and the fans in the stand?" According to my son, who is on the Glenbard West football team, the answer to the first part of the question is "no"; he doesn't hear them. I'm not sure he even hears the rambunctious student section. The boys seem too focused on the game to pay much attention to anyone but each other, the coaches, and the opposition. The answer to the second part of the question would depend on who you ask, I suppose. At the Golden Eagles games that I attended, the cheerleaders were so far off to the side that if you were watching the game you couldn't even see them; not much enhancement of the experience for the fans there. At West, the cheerleaders are down below the stands and again it is hard to see them. It is also hard to hear them. Back in the 1970s, when I was in High School, we were closer to the cheerleaders and they led the crowd in cheers. That function seems to have disappeared. Summing it up, at a West game last fall, I overheard a young girl say of the cheerleaders, "Do they think they are helping us win?" If the answers to these questions are "no," then let's create cheer squads that cheer for the school without the pretense of a sports event. Let these amazing young athletes do their thing in the spotlight so we can cheer for them!
JT January 22, 2012 at 09:22 PM
As a proud mother of a cheerleader and one that participates in a reputable and wonderful organization I find your article quite distasteful, lacking anything of value to your readers. Cheerleading may not be recognized as a national sport but it is a sport. As mentioned those that choose cheerleading make a very large sacrafice in their lives. The practices are strenuous, in depth, time committed and a must for completion of stunts and organization of dance. There is so much put into the performances that people like you look past. There is no difference in the difficulty of passing a ball to the right guy at the right time at the right end of the field compared to getting a flyer up in the air at the right timing of music, safely, holding her there and then safely bringing her back down while maintaining future moves in head and the critical manuevering of such. I find this article almost too pathetic to comment on but I too have devoted my time into my daughter and her extra curricular activity to simply let this one pass. This activity assists her in other areas of life not just wearing a cute uniform and bow to school. This is not a sexual sport as so many men tend to fantasize about, it is a hard working, truly 100% dedicated love and should be respected as that. Our superb team coaches, teen coaches and dedicated squad won State Champions and deserve all the respect that comes with that. Write a positive article and count on better comments.
Beth Bales January 22, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Vickie -- As someone who grew up pre-Title IV (though I graduated in '74 and Title IX passed in '72 -- please, I think we had bowling as a sport for girls by 1974 and I only now that because I dug out my yearbook once to look), those of us who WERE in the dark ages have NOTHING but admiration and envy for those with more opportunities. I never would have been on a team, most likely, but maybe I would have played park district sports in the summer, had the opportunity been there. Go girls!
Jeff Ward January 22, 2012 at 11:31 PM
And the irony is, I'm advocating for young women to be more than just a sideline attraction. Silly me!
Jeff Ward January 22, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Beth! Don't lie! We all know you're really 28 or 29. Jeff
JT January 23, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Doesn't appear that way. Nice attempt in a reversal. Cheerleaders are not a sideline attraction, seriously choose your words wisely. That is one part of what they do in their support of the team they are cheering for and getting the crowd more involved in participating in the game. There are other elements that the cheerleaders work on throughout the year for their achievement as a team. Such as they perform diffucult routines with in depth choreography, strength and ability for school, fundraisers and most of all competitions, which lead to state level competition and even nationals. Quite remarkable the levels this reaches in athletic ability, team work no different then any other extra curricular activity. You need to stop belittling the young ladies and men that work so hard at their choice of sport. This again is distasteful, disrespectful and really unacceptable.
Jeff Ward January 23, 2012 at 04:18 PM
There's no reversal! That intent is clear throughout the column. And I also stipulated that cheerleading requires quite a bit of athleticism. But In the end, they cheer for the boys (Oddly enough, they don't cheer for girls teams), and because of that, I would never want my daughter to be a cheerleader. Readers can employ all the excuses in the world, but they know I'm right! Jeff
Political PR Machine January 23, 2012 at 05:59 PM
They came to Giorls baskletball games, and the pep band did too. And it made a big difference - in the atmosphere, in the sense of what the school has to offer in terms of talents, and in terms of energy. And when the students sang the National Anthem, it was unbelievable. And when the two Sharpe girls sang right before playing on the basketball team, it was a beautiful thing to see and hear. We should showcase all of the talents, and not minimize the talents of cheerleaders... Cheerleaders represent the positive that energizes, entertains, builds enthusiasm, and recognizes the accomplishments and gives hope when needed on the field or court... as opposed to opinionators, who zap energy, complain, and bring people dowm in an effort to take away from what people are doing that is positive... something to think about... maybe the Patch needs some Community Cheerleaders to recognize the great parts of the city, and not just write opinions that find fault with everything....
JT January 24, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Your opinion is yours and not RIGHT! It is simply that your opinion. You should do some research prior to writing your columns and save yourself the embarassment that you have inflicted upon yourself throughout the community. I am proud of my daughter who is a cheerleader, horseback rider, piano player, singer, model and a straight A ... young lady. No limits to what a girl can do and grow up to be.
MF January 24, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Mr. Ward, I think you are trying to be respectful to women in this article, but it actually backfired on you. My daughter is a cheerleader, has a very high GPA, and is a competitive equestrian rider. She works very hard and dedicates many hours a week to her sports and academics. What is so bad about cheering on the sidelines? What is so bad about encouraging and supporting our teams? In Junior High the cheer squad cheers for both male and female sports. Who doesn't need a cheerleader? You probably should have done a little more research about the sport before you wrote this article. I think you owe all the cheerleaders out there an apology.
Jeff Ward January 24, 2012 at 04:04 AM
Dear MF, Sadly, in the words of Tom Petty, "I won't back down!" Again, I never said cheerleading doesn't take dedication and athleticism, but that doesn't change the fact that cheering for the boys automatically puts them in a lower category. Why don't we have male cheerleaders cheering for the girls - at every school? And I love how people accuse me of not doing my research. I didn't realize how many readers had me under 24/7 surveillance. When doing research for a similar column some years ago, I spent three hours in a cheerleader training facility talking to the parents, teachers and students. And it didn't change my mind one bit. Cheerleading is an anachronism that needs to fade away! Jeff
Aimee January 26, 2012 at 07:27 AM
Jeff, your idea that cheerleading needs to fade away because the majority of cheerleading squads are made up of women and because of this, woman cheerleaders belittle themselves by cheering for all male teams is all together an ignorant comment. I will start off by pointing out that the most colleges and universities across the country have squads with half women and half men. The two high schools I attended (I moved my junior year) both cheered for men and women's basketball teams. With that said, why should either of these points matter? Why does the credibility of a sport or any activity hang on the gender factor? The very fact that you put the credibility of what cheerleaders do on their gender is why women have faced and still do face adversity within the norms of society. Women are individuals. Men are individuals. Cheerleaders are individuals. The credibility of a sport an individual chooses to participate in should not be determined by gender, whether a student has a crowd cheering them on, or how popular that sport is at their school. The credibility comes from the value of the lessons a student can gain from participating in a sport. These values are learning leadership from supporting teammates, respect by representing themselves, their team, and their school in a positive light, and strength from working hard against all adversity to persevere to success. I was a cheerleader and learned all these lessons.
Jeff Ward January 26, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Aimee, Now, you have to give me the fact that I was specifically talking about highs school. Although I will say some colleges have mixed squads as opposed to "most." And I never said high school cheerleaders don't get something out of cheerleading. What I said was that it's sexist and they would get more out participating on a basketball or cross country team. Jeff
Aimee January 26, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Your article is directly addressing high school cheerleading and how you see it as obsolete. However, how do you think women on collegiate squads gain the skills necessary to make those squads and receive scholarships? The obvious answer is training in the years prior to college which encompasses high school. Getting rid of high school level cheer would be ridding many male and female students of such opportunities. As for your statement that again claims cheerleading to be sexist and a disadvantage to those who participate in it compared to peers on another team, you obviously chose to disregard my prior comment about how gender doesn't determine what a student can learn on any given sports team. I also participated in track during high school and got more out of being cheerleader than being one of many on a track team where the coaches only paid attention to the handful of track stars. My choice to be in cheer over another sport did not present me with shortcomings as a woman. I did not learn to be less superior to a man. I did not become less confident than my peers. I learned all the lessons I stated in my prior comment and many more which can be taught on any athletic team. More importantly I learned how to stand up against arguments such as the one you presented. I obviously did not grow up to not care about a woman’s place in society otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to respond to this article. I don't see how I was disadvantaged.
Jeff Ward January 26, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Aimee, Turning your "where do they get their training" argument around on you, though male high school cheerleaders are few and far between we still see them at the collegiate level. And by sexist I mean, we don't see high school boys cheering for the girls. The girls should cheer for the boys? They don't even cheer for the girls! That's sexist The Miss Illinois pageant tries to justify its miserable existence by call themselves a "scholarship pageant." But what does posing in a bikini have to do with college. I know you don't want to believe it and that's OK, but high school cheerleading follows the same mentality. Adding more to it doesn't change the fact that ultimately, the girls cheer for the boys and that time has passed. Jeff
Aimee January 26, 2012 at 10:10 PM
High school girls are not forced to cheer on these squads, and they do not use half naked bodies to gain attention (though some private teams do but that is a different issue than school supported cheerleading programs where this is not the case), and a cheer scholarship is not earned any differently than a girl earning one from another sport. If more boy students wished to join the squad there would be more boys cheering for the girls teams that cheerleaders cheer for. There is just a lower number of boys interested in the sport of cheerleading due to the stigma that it received from its earlier days and society's old standard that boys should only be doing "manly" things which is a problem in of itself. But if people start to understand the sport of cheerleading as a whole and understand sideline cheerleading is a very small part to what they actually stand for, this stigma could be lessened and change could come to the sport. But many don't understand how cheerleaders positively impact the school's atmosphere and how competitive many squads are which is shown in the multiple competitive cheerleading competitions high school squads attend. These competitions showcase a lot of athletic talent and skill. So a proper solution to your claim that cheerleading appears sexist because boys are not cheering for girls is not to erase the sport as a whole from high school athletic programs but to change the stigma that cheerleading is sport only for girls.
Karen F January 28, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Most of us realize that cheerleading has evolved into a challenging sport, equal on par to many male-based sports. What still needs to evolve is the older generation's attitude toward cheerleading and the girls that participate. Since many are beyond reform, let's turn our energies to our sons. Raise them to be respectful of girls and to see their souls and worth and not just the length of their skirts. It is up to us, parents....our job continues!!
Twilight January 29, 2012 at 06:12 AM
Well done Jeff. That was a very good article and it's well written. You present a very good reason as to why cheerleading should no longer exist. Only USA have cheerleaders and coming from Europe I've often been puzzled by it as well as thinking it is very sexist. Done at the sideline it is not a sport, and I can't understand how having girls yelling and spelling out words with their arms contributes to any school or college game. Seeing as the players often can't hear them or can't look at them (as they would lose sight of the ball) they seem to serve no purpose. Can't spectators cheer themselves like in every other country? As for teenage girls wearing skimpy outfits I can't believe that any school would allow a violation of that dress code. Try turning up to a regular high school in skmipy mini skirt with a slit and a midriff with a bratop in anything other but the school colours and that student would be sent home. So why is this revealing "uniform" acceptable for cheerleading and no other sport? Compare it to basketball, football (sorry soccer to you Americans). At professional level e.g. NFL, NBA I was shocked and sometimes even disgusted at how little the women wear when I saw pictures. If men complain that women don't like sports that is probably the reason why. I don't know of any dedicated sports fan who would stop watching their beloved teams simply because of an absence of orange-tanned, semi-strippers dancing badly. Thank you
Twilight January 29, 2012 at 06:44 AM
Ok "The Smiths" I can't agree with this. The whole purpose of cheerleading is to lead the cheers as the name speaks clearly for itself. However times have changed and women should be playing sports now not being titilation of the side. There are no male only cheerleading teams or squads wearing tight shorts and jumping up and down the side of women's basketball or soccer are there? You say they compete? At what exactly? It's definitely not a sport when cheering on the sidelines and when they enter competitions exclusively for themselves their whole purpose i.e. to lead the cheers is nullified as they have no-one to cheer for. So they wave their pom-poms at, who, judges for what purpose? Or do all the cheerleading teams competing at national championships have pep squads cheering them on? Wouldn't that get confusing .. Only joking.! Why risk terrible injury for something that even a judge doesn't consider a sport at least for the purposes of Title IX? Besides college scholarships should focus on Title IX sports, it's a shame that someone loses out to cheerleading.
Twilight January 29, 2012 at 06:58 AM
Will I've never seen Irish Step Dancers in tight revealing skimpy outfits doing stripper moves.
Twilight January 29, 2012 at 07:19 AM
Ok Sean Johnders say that to Vinnie Jones ... wait call an ambulance first then say it to Vinnie Jones. One can argue that American Football isn't really a type of football seeing as the player's foot rarely touches the ball.
Twilight January 29, 2012 at 07:33 AM
Leslie Prindeville Can I ask you a question about your comments "My oldest daughter graduated in 2010 ranking 6th in her high school class and one of her teammates, yes a cheerleader, graduated #1! In the 2011 class there was also a cheerleader in the top ten!" Was it a special needs school?

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