Research Essay Final Draft



Alexus Seiler

Professor Devrick

Writing 10

April 22, 2013

The Changing World of Cheerleading

Cheerleading had first started around the 1880’s. Very contrary to today’s image of a cheer squad, back then it was a group of all men who would yell from the bleachers to keep the spirit going for their team. Soon enough, when the war came around, the men left to defend the country leaving women the opportunity to take over for the men in the bleachers. Eventually, cheerleading involved the pom poms, high ponytails, and skirts, as young women would prance around doing different catchy chants. Now that has also taken a change. Now squads are seen with both male and females from ages as low as five years old to early twenties. Those catchy chants are now paired with rigorous routines of in synch variations of jumps, kicks and stunts. The general idea of cheerleading that is seen from the bleachers is a group of girls and guys cheering on a team. Simple. What is not seen is the amount of practice that goes into the routines, the physical strength that is required and ultimately the dedication that is needed to keep pushing forward. (

A normal day of practice for a cheerleader is very similar to that of any other wellrecognized sport, when you compared the physical ability that is needed. A series of stretches, push-ups and sit-ups to warm up, followed by running for cardio. After this, the coach will add on to the cardio workout by having the team repeat their variations of jumps and kicks in sequences. Also, many cheer teams either put aside time during practice to work on gymnastic traits, such as back flips, front flips, and tumbling or they have their

2 team meet again separately at a gym that works with these gymnastic traits. Depending on the coach, some cheer teams may also have separate practice that is reserved solely for weight lifting in order to ensure the cheerleaders are prepared for stunts. It is very important that cheerleaders, who are key for performing stunts, have very strong upper body strength. For those that are not familiar with stunts, stunts refer to when cheerleaders lift their teammates in the air doing a variety of formations. Stunts are the main cause for many of cheer related injuries. There are basic safety regulations for cheer, however, by having cheerleading become an official sport more caution would be given to cheer thus decreasing the amount of injuries.

A journal from in Angela Bangnulo’s, supports the idea that cheer’s injuries has increased in Canada and in the United States, and the best prevention for this would be to educate the participants. To successfully do this, cheerleading would need to be considered a sport. By giving cheerleading the proper recognition, there will be more focus and caution to the stunts and the way jumps and kicks are executed. 44.6% of cheerleaders are said to have an ankle sprain. One of the main causes of this is the practice surface. Stunts, jumps and kicks should be done on a hard surface but a mat, much similar to those that wrestlers use. “Cheerleading, in fact, is the leading cause of catastrophic injuries among female athletes, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. Jody

Melton, president of Cheer Athletics, says coaches and rulemakers are boosting safety precautions as the sport matures.” These “catastrophic injuries” include severe back injuries, broken limbs, and in some cases even neck fractures, which are mainly caused from stunting accidents. (Campo-Flores)


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was developed in 1906 to protect its athletes but cheerleaders are not included under this realm.

8 Although not recognized as a sport by the NCAA, a study by Thomas et al in 2004, demonstrated that the physical fitness of a cheerleader is similar to that of any other collegiate sport by comparing results on various physical tests (push-ups, V02 max, body composition, etc). Just like any other varsity sport, cheerleading has summer camp, tryouts, regular practice schedules and competition. Comparable to gymnastics, a high level of strength, agility, power, and flexibility are required for the acrobatic-like maneuvers, cheerleading stunts and pyramids.

9 Sports injuries are occurring and it is to be expected that similar injuries can occur in cheerleading. (The Journal of the

Canadian Chiropractic Association)

Individuals that are looking into cheerleading will then be able to get a better understanding of what is required and the risks cheerleading comes with. We see this applied to many different aspects in our society and it has proven to serve a great difference. By using education we can lessen the outcome we are trying to prevent. As of now not much attention is being given to cheerleading, so injury rates are escalating according to another study shown below.

In 2009, Shields et al conducted two prospective survey studies looking at cheerleading injuries related to type of team and event. Both studies gathered data from the same population; 412 cheer teams across America consisting of 9022 cheerleaders 3–29 years of age. Data was collected online by each team who had a reporter submit weekly injury report data over one year. The most common mechanisms of injury were basing or spotting (24%), failure to complete a maneuver


(15%), tumbling (15%), and falls (14%).

4 , 11 Falls occurred from an average of five feet and were on a foam floor only 38% of the time versus a gymnasium floor or grass, etc. Forty-three percent of falls involved more than one cheerleader during the maneuver. The most common age for a fall to occur was in high school cheerleaders compared to All Star or recreation league, elementary school or collegiate level


11 The most common injuries experienced by this population of cheerleaders were a strain or sprain of the ankle (15%), neck (7%), lower back (5%), knee (5%), and wrist (4%). (The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association)

By giving cheerleading the label of being a sport, the proper caution will then be given.

More attention would be put on how cheerleading is executed and set new safety limits. It thus becomes a form of prevention for the many injuries cheerleading can cause.

According to the study made by “The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic

Association”, it has been proven that cheerleading’s physical activity is similar to many other varsity sports. This seems to be one of the main arguments against cheerleading becoming a sport. Many believe that the so-called “effort” given by cheerleaders is no more then any other fan in the bleachers. This study also stated that much of the same characteristics in gymnastics is used in competitive cheerleading as well. So if cheerleading has the same physical traits as other accepted sports, why is it so hard to be considered a sport? A lot of it may be due to the fact that cheerleading is seen as an extremely feminine activity. A lot of the media has not helped with this stereotype, portraying cheerleaders as a group of extremely feminine young girls who only seem to care about their social life.

Through the years, cheerleading has changed tremendously but not many understand exactly in what ways. Cheerleading should be considered a sport due to the fact

SEILER 5 that a lot of time, physical activity and determination are put into it. The same dedication seen in other well-accepted sports is also seen amongst those individuals that participate in cheerleading. Looking into a dictionary the proper definition of the word “sport” comes up short; “An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.” ( It is very vague, but from this definition cheerleading fits right in. From high school cheerleading, which receives some of the worst recognition, to college and the world of competitive cheerleading, it is obvious that cheerleading as removed it from the passenger seat and is now taking center stage. As cheerleading continues to grow around the world, many individuals are stuck in the past and do not believe cheerleading has enough in it to be considered a sport. We need to all keep in mind that a sport is not limited to activities that involve getting a ball from point A to point B. No one can just get up one day and go play in the NFL or NBA; you need intense training and years of practice to make it that far.

Cheerleading is the same way. You may think you can just go out and yell a couple a chants and just kick your leg around sporadically but in reality that is not what cheerleading is. It is a combination of well-syncretized jumps, kicks and stunts which can take up to months to prepare for one, three-minute half time show or competition routine. By looking into the history of cheerleading you can really see what has changed and the impact it is having on us as a society.

The way cheerleading is changing as a whole, becoming more appealing to both genders and physical traits, definitely helps support the claim for cheerleading to become recognized as a sport. From an article in the New York Times, a young 17-year-old male quarterback named Michael DellaPenna, joined his high school cheer squad because he felt

6 it was a new challenge and believed cheerleading was his answer. “Michael said his cheerleading injuries have convinced his football colleagues that stunting can be as masculine as running down a field. In both sports, he gets kicked, hit, fallen on and otherwise mangled.” (Brenner) The fact that a well-established athlete, who was also involved in track, would join the cheer squad helps support the idea that cheerleading is no longer a mere sideline activity. Of course, DellaPenna is just an example of how the changing world of cheerleading is not simply an exaggeration. “There are about 3.3 million cheerleaders in the United States, according to American Sports Data, a research concern in

Hartsdale.” (Brenner) With so many individuals participating in cheer it is hard to pass up the fact that this is indeed a growing attraction. We need to now pay attention to why so many individuals are joining cheerleading, which is because it is becoming such a complex physical sport. By recognizing cheerleading as a sport, it would be easier for those who mock cheerleading to give it a try and also, allow potential males such as DellaPenna, to not feel so ashamed of wanting to join cheerleading. By becoming a sport, cheerleading would receive more approval in our society because it would then be viewed the same way as our other beloved sports.

Another example that supports the realization of the intensity cheerleading has to offer would be form an article by Arian Campo-Flores, who writes about a young “hard core” gymnast that joined a competitive cheer squad. Erykah Ward a seventeen-year-old girl, who at one point was training for the 2000 Olympics, would have never thought that she of all people would have tried out for a competitive cheer team. She had found herself tired of gymnastics, and wanted something challenging to fill her void for the sport. A friend then recommended cheerleading. At first, Ward gave no intention on joining a cheer

SEILER 7 team but after some time, she agreed to give it a chance. She went to one of the nation's largest competitive-cheer gyms, Cheer Athletics in Dallas. Here she competed for a spot on one of the dozen teams offered by Cheer Athletics. Ward did make a cheer team, the

Wildcats coed team and began to understand the intensity cheerleading has to offer. It was stated that she was crying after every practice because her skills were not improving as quickly as she wanted them too, and in pain from a neck injury.

"I'm coming home with all kinds of bruises," says Ward, adding that her muscles are so sore she needs help walking up the stairs at school. "I've never been to practices like this. They work us to death." (Campo-Flores)

This coming from a “hard-core” gymnast makes a huge statement. It proves that not everything is as easy as it may seem. Wards perception of cheerleading has changed from what she once thought was a “laughably lax”, to something that is physically difficult.


In addition to these individuals who actually went out and became a part of cheerleading, some well recognized athletes have mixed feelings on the claim that cheerleading should be considered a sport. Sports Illustrated magazine interviewed a few active athletes in the sports world, and asked how they felt about cheerleading being considered a sport. Duke guard Georgia Schweitzer, states, "For today's cheerleaders, it's much more of a sport. They do a lot of gymnastics and flexibility stuff that there's no way I could do. At the same time, I'd much rather be playing." Another interview was with Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who stated; “You've got to have athletic ability to be a flipper and a jumper and a tosser-upside-downer." Even though Siragusa didn’t have the

8 formal terms quite down we still can see that these two athletes agree cheerleading should be considered a sport. (Sports Illustrated)

There have been claims that the NCAA does not view cheerleading as a sport due to the fact that cheerleaders are not given the opportunity at a “championship game”, as there is in other sports such as football. (FOX News) As I have stated before, there are cheer competitions, which include championships sponsored by the Varsity Company. So by stating that cheerleading does not give the members a chance to competitively compete in a championship is false. The United Spirit Association (USA), and United Cheer Association

(UCA) are two of the most popular cheer competitions in the world. Just this month, USA hosted a cheer competition that consisted of high school, and college teams both in the

United States and Puerto Rico.( If the NCAA would give cheerleading recognition as a sport the attitudes of many potential members would change. More individuals would become educated and understand exactly why cheerleading has earned the recognition of becoming a sport.

The definition for a sport may differ from individual to individual but facts are facts.

Cheerleading has grown tremendously in so many ways since it first started. It is no longer just on the sidelines, but is actually taking the main spot light. The world of cheerleading is nothing like what many individuals assume. It is not something that can be accomplished right away, but requires a lot of time and commitment. Cheerleading is filled with physical challenges that many may not be able to reach without the proper dedication and mindset.

With increased injuries, the best form of prevention is education and understanding of cheer as a sport. Also, realizing that athletes who are currently participating in the so-called

“approved sports”, are also agreeing that cheerleading is a sport. Both DellaPenna and

Ward are prime examples of how much of an impact is put on the perception of

SEILER 9 cheerleading, once you are actually involved in it. Simply watching cheer is nothing compared to actually enduring exactly what is required of a cheerleader; which consists of the same physical endurance as other sports such as football and basketball. There is still athletic stamina in cheer just as there is in any other recognized and celebrated sport.


Work Cited:

Bagnulo, A. "Cheerleading Injuries: a Narrative Review of the Literature." The Journal of the

Canadian Chiropractic Association. 56.4 (2012): 292-8. Print.

"Being a Cheerleader - History of Cheerleading." Being a Cheerleader - History of

Cheerleading. Varsity, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2013.


"Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus." The Free Dictionary. Farlex, n.d. Web. 01 May

2013. <>.

ELSA, BRENNER. "Cheerleading Changes As Boys Join Sidelines; Stereotypes Slip Away,

Attitudes Shift and a Sport Calls for More Acrobatics." New York Times. (1999). Print.

"Sport? Not A Sport? THIS WEEK: CHEERLEADING." Sports Illustrated 94.1 (2001): 22.

Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 May 2013.