Monday, May 29, 2017

Cheerleaders ~ Breaking Through & Challenging Change

Competitive Cheer Teams
(not your stereotypical cheerleaders) 

by: M.B. Varville-Rodriguez
(pictured here with her daughter, Bella)

This post was originally featured here on 05/29/2017
Some updates have been made.

My child is a member of a competitive cheer team.  She joined last year after school started due to some family issues and participated in some of their activities.  Starting later than the other team members meant she was limited in competition, but was able to cheer for the various sports teams during side line cheers. She also experienced some of the training involved in choreographed cheers and additional tumbling classes. We were new to this sport and hung on for the ride, all the while observing and absorbing the tremendous dedication poured into the planning of the two time state champion team. This year we intend to step up our game and become more immersed in the competitive side of this sport.  That's right!  This is an intense sport that requires cardio- conditioning, strengthening core muscles that support the lifts, tumbles, and stunts, and stretching to improve/enhance range of motion plus flexibility.

Competitive cheer involves hours of conditioning and practice.  It places demands on each participant's time and energy.  The training never stops.  School just ended, but the cheer team practices throughout the summer.  Two training camps are already scheduled.  Weekend tumbling instruction is also expected at a premier cheer facility run by a multi-award winning coach.  Expenses can run high to compensate the instructors/coaches, use of a special training facility, uniforms, and travel.  There is a significant investment of time and finances when these athletes dedicate themselves to the sport of competitive cheer.

Fundraising for the students involved with the competitive team is a necessary aspect of the budget.  I am working with my child to find ways to manage this component.  We were given customer incentive cards to sell for $20 each.  The card highlights a local pizza business that has six locations.  There are three break away cards.  One has a BOGO offer that is good until next year for multiple visits and the other two include free food items equal to $20 total with no purchase necessary.  So the card really is a good deal if you love pizza.  Seems simple enough to sell, right?  Well, here's what we've discovered:

Fundraising Facts

1. Not many people keep an extra $20 in their wallet

2. Checks are also rare

3. People are willing to donate $1, $5, $10 without the card

4. Individuals are overwhelmed by requests for donations 

5. There's still a stigma attached to being a "cheer leader" even if  you're wearing your warm up pants and the 
long sleeve shell with school logo versus the short skirts.  

Last year I helped my daughter with this fundraising project for her competitive cheer team. I watched as she walked up to an individual, handed her a flyer, and explained her intent. The woman thrust the flyer back at her and said, "I don't like cheerleaders." That got me thinking about stereotypes.  According to an article written by Maggie Marion (August 22,2016)...

When you search the word "cheerleading" for Google images you get pictures of choreographed sports team dancers in revealing clothing.  However, if you search "All Star Cheerleading" you will see competitive cheer leaders who train and fight for world titles and train for thirty hours a week.  I began to wonder if there is a need to re-name "cheerleaders" and update the image that it still represents to many individuals.

Alexa Waddock is a former high school cheerleader who is now majoring in Individualized Marketing at Emmanuel College in Boston, MA. She attended a Catholic High School in Manchester, CT and was the cheer captain for their competitive team.  She writes a blog that highlights the stereotypical images of cheerleaders versus the real, intelligent, and athletic individuals who break through the barriers associated with this intense sport.  You can read her insights at 

Melissa from OMNI Cheer wrote an article that debunks nine myths of cheerleading.(Posted on November 7, 2013 by Melissa in Cheer News, Cheerleading Safety) You can read her article at:

Copyright 2018 World of Writer Mom

Read more about breaking stereotypes!

(read this one to the end)

(Things everyone gets totally wrong about cheerleading)

These links offer a few articles I found and recommend them to anyone interested in this subject.  Given the challenges that competitive cheer athletes still face, I started to brain storm ideas for how to change the way we view cheerleaders. 
Perhaps a name change?  

One idea for re-naming the term "Cheerleader"
Competitive Aerodynamic Team Athlete 

A Change is Needed!

It's not just a name change that's needed.  There needs to be a methodical way to change perceptions  of this intense sport while simultaneously revising the way we present these athletes to our communities.  Fundraisers are great opportunities to promote a different view of the traditional cheerleader persona.  This is also a perfect time to promote an athlete's skills for speaking, interpersonal communication techniques, negotiating, community outreach, marketing, and personal awareness.  The comfort level for fundraising at a football game where one is on familiar territory and feels safe is vastly different from approaching strangers and attempting to convey the purpose of your organization. 

School Athletic Coaches 

In a world of athletes where males still tend to receive the lion's share of attention and accolades over females, it becomes increasingly important for schools to have an awareness of how attitudes affect sports programs.  Cheerleading is a legitimate and competitive sport that deserves recognition. When a school does have a stellar cheer team who has earned a state title and other awards, it is critical that athletic coaches and school administrators acknowledge these accomplishments in a very public way!  Perceptions can be changed when there is a sincere plan of action. 

Ways to Make A Difference

1. Fair practice times - Make sure all athletes have the opportunity to experience practice times that are reasonable for their schedules and upcoming competitions. This includes your competitive cheer team!  Requiring them to stay at school or return at a later time impedes their progress and jeopardizes their ability to maintain school work, sleep schedules, and ability to effectively compete. Sabotaging a team's success is unprofessional and sends the message to teams that their sport is not as important to a school as other sports.

2. Recognition - Allow opportunities for teams to show case their skills to other students and within the community. Make sure they receive adequate representation from other athletes, administration, and coaches.  When a competitive cheer team goes out of their way to support other sports teams but do not receive the same in return, that is absolutely unacceptable and unsportsmanlike.

3. Media Coverage - Make sure competitive cheer teams receive coverage for their upcoming events and successes! Highlight what types of training are required, time invested in that training and preparations, and even the emotional/social costs of being involved in this dedicated sport.

4.  Squash rumors, inuendos, and disrespectful speech associated with competitive cheer teams. This includes inappropriate accusations of uniforms being "too short" or "too revealing".  Seriously? A collar bone being revealed or sports shorts under a skirt are not the reasons people make poor choices and get into awkward situations. Do we criticize football players for the tight pants they are required to wear or the midriffs that show when they lift their arms to throw the ball?  No!  Sports related uniforms are just that...uniforms designed for a specific sport to show case and highlight the skills required for competition.  So let's just stop with the idea that cheer teams reveal too much.

5. Speak Up - There are so many other ways our school communities can be a part of debunking the myths of a competitive cheer team. Parents need to speak up when something is amiss and unfair.  Schools need to become more inclusive and understand the implications of their actions or lack of actions, and our athletes need to develop their advocacy skills to include communication, negotiation, and community outreach.  You can make a difference in how competitive cheer is perceived! 

I would love to learn how you have overcome stereotypes, developed fundraising strategies for your children, and what your role has been in teaching your athlete about advocacy both on and off the competitive field.

Thanks for taking time to read and I look forward to having you visit, follow, and share at:

(The picture of Bella at age 19 months was a glimpse at the strong, independent young person she is becoming.)

Copyright 2018 World of Writer Mom

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Mary Varville-Rodriguez, BSW, Child Development/Early Intervention Specialist/Advocate (15+ years), Prior experiences: AFAA Certified (Frankfurt, Germany) & Global Wellness Certified (Augsburg, Germany) for Personal Trainer/Aerobics Instructor/Exercise Prescription, UTMB at Galveston Dept. of Pediatrics - Project LAUNCH - Community Outreach/Referral Development/EIS-C, Current: World of Writer Writer/Publisher/Marketing Affiliate/Advocate