Cheerleading Officially Named a Sport at Grace

Cheer Team performs during halftime of Varsity Basketball game. Media provided by Gazette Media Staff.

Grace’s cheer team, which has existed almost as long as the high school was founded a decade ago, was dubbed a “sport” this year. As a member of the cheer team myself, I have found that most Grace community members deny the undoubted athletics required for cheer and dismiss the sport as a “girl’s thing,” unknowingly repeating the misogynistic labeling of the sport that has existed since cheer became a concept over a hundred years ago. 

During a University of Minnesota football game in 1898, while the home team was losing badly, a student named Johnny Campbell started shouting cheers through a microphone to instruct the crowd on how to cheer for the team. The cheer Campbell shouted was “Rah, rah, rah! Ski-u-mah, Hoo-rah! Hoo-rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-so-tah!” (This explains why my dad mockingly shouted “rah, rah, rah!” when I told him I was going to join the cheer team).

Cheer quickly became popular in colleges, which were male-only institutions at the time, and turned into its own independent activity. Over time, as women were allowed to attend college and as many young men were recruited for the army, women took on the sport. The shift was partially caused by men leaving for war, but, as time progressed, a concept called “male flight” came into play. Male flight is when women start to integrate themselves into a male-dominated field of work causing men to quit those jobs. As the gender that dominated cheer changed, the way in which the activity was regarded by others changed. When cheerleaders were male, they were seen as commanding and respectable. However, young female cheerleaders are frequently sexualized and slut-shamed.

Nowadays, cheerleading is starting to be recognized as a respectable and challenging sport in mainstream media. Both seasons of the Netflix docuseries “Cheer” made it to #1 on “Top 10 in the U.S. Today” almost immediately upon release. The docuseries was a smash hit with viewers all over the country wanting to witness the rigorous training of the Navarro Cheer Team in Texas. The intent behind the docuseries was to squash viewers’ misconceptions about cheerleading being a frivolous activity. With the amount of praise the show has received, it is clear that people have started to open their eyes to the fact that cheerleading is a real sport, and it seems that Grace is coming to the same realization.   

Grace’s cheer team was founded in 2015 as a club by Paloma Green ‘16 only two years after the High School division was founded. A Gazette article written in 2017, “Feminism in Cheerleading at GCS” sheds light on the hardships the girls on the team faced: “They deal with a lot of judgment from students and teachers alike, with people talking down to them,” reporter Erica Grosso ‘18 wrote. Grosso went on to repeat throughout the article that the team’s hard work often went underappreciated and unrecognized. The Athletics Department denied requests to officially name cheer a sport, and, in doing so, denied their legitimacy.  Ms. Illi Armijos, Athletic Director, explains in this article that cheer was not considered a sport because they did not compete in a league. A question that was brought up in this article was whether the department’s and the community’s dismissive attitude was misogyny at work. 

Another issue that the 2017 article discussed briefly was whether it was possible to be a school committed to feminist ideals while also having a cheer team. In an interview with the Gazette, MiChelle Carpenter, 10th-grade Dean and Mathematics/Lab Studies Instructor, divulged that the main reason Grace’s cheer team received such serious backlash was that many female-identifying students at the time were concerned about the history of cheerleading and what it implied about the school. The community wanted to instill gender equality as a core value, and many students thought that instituting a cheer team was a complete violation of that value. 

Grace’s cheer team attended their first competition in 2020. This year, the team received their own page on the Grace athletics program website. This progress shows that Grace cheerleading has come a long way since its founding in 2015. Before joining the team myself, I had the same lack of respect for the team as this community once did. When my friend told me she was joining I chuckled, telling her that she would quit after a week of practice. After attending pre-season and reporting back to me, she raved about the pure sense of community the team fostered and how empowering it was to her to dance and have a cheerful attitude. This description piqued my interest and caused me to sign up a day later. Since then, I have been able to experience the magic my friend described every day.