Feminism in Cheerleading at GCS

In the Fall of 2015, the Grace Church School cheerleading team was born. The founder of the team was Paloma Green ‘16, a senior at the time, who created the team in order to bring spirit to Grace, which at that point, was so new that not even one class had graduated. The club started with a small amount of girls, and the majority of the season was spent figuring out how to get the club off its feet. Two years later, the team, led by captains Millie Novak ‘18 and Julia Sebastia-Lopez ‘18, is now so big that it had to be divided into JV and Varsity cheer. There are now 25 girls in total, and the cheer team has worked extremely hard to get to where they are.

However, the struggles the team faces are more than just getting routines down. They deal with a lot of judgement from students and teachers alike, with people talking down to them, and even taking pictures of the team, saying how shameful the cheer team is. Despite practicing multiple times a week and raising funds themselves for uniforms and gear, some people still do not view the cheerleading team as serious. I spoke to the captains of the cheer team, Ms. Armijos, Director of Athletics, head of the Girl Up Club, Kate Bonham Walsh ‘18, as well as Natalie Raver-Goldsby ‘18, a student who has had a change of heart about the cheer team, to get some more perspective on this issue.

For seniors Julia and Millie, being the captains of the cheer team is a hard job. In addition to running practices multiple times a week, these two seniors are responsible for managing not one but two teams, teaching choreography, and raising money for their uniforms and gear, as they get no monetary support from the school. When I asked Julia if she felt like the cheer team was treated equally compared to other sports teams at Grace, she responded without hesitation, saying no. She said, “We had to raise funds for ourselves for merchandise and uniforms through countless bake sales, unlike other teams who were given the funding. The school has not given us a single dollar, besides for the original club funds.”

However, this has not stopped the cheer team. They have managed to scrape together funds and have successfully bought themselves uniforms and jackets each year. When asked about people who don’t support the team and their mission, Julia said, “They’re just haters. We’re only benefitting the school. People should join us instead of hating. I’d like to see them get on stage. If they think they can do it better, I encourage them to try out. Before they are so quick to judge I’d love to see them sitting on the sidelines to support our teams, memorizing cheers, just to support our team.”

Though the team has improved a lot, competing in cheer competitions has not been considered. Millie explained, “[our] intention is not to compete to prove we’re the best. We just want to bring school spirit. Because we are a new school, we lack school spirit to begin with, so when we have our spirit day at The Barclays Center, having the cheer team makes it a lot better. Wanting to bring the school spirit should be enough to be taken seriously.”  

The Director of Athletics, Ms. Armijos, runs the Athletic Department and is responsible for coordinating all of the school’s teams. This has led to some controversy, as people questioned why she has not deemed the cheer team as an official team. I decided to talk to her and get her perspective on the cheer team. When I walked in and told her that I was going to talk to her about the cheer team, judging by the reactions in the office when I mentioned this, it was clear that this was a subject of much discussion previously.

When I asked her about her response to people who consider cheerleading as a joke, she said, “It’s not a joke. The girls work very hard and are always improving. It has also gained a lot of interest. It will be even better when the new gym is built and there will be spirit in the school. School spirit will rise to the top.” I also asked why cheerleading isn’t considered a sport yet. Her response was that they don’t compete. She explained, “They don’t have competitions. It’s more of a club. If they competed in competitions, it would be considered a sport. Competing would result in the team competing or practicing five days a week like the other varsity teams. If they competed, they would get the same funding as the other teams.” Ms.Armijos went on to say,In the NYSAIS, cheer is not under the

category of competition. No other schools in NYC have a competitive cheer team, and few have a non-competitive cheer teams. The cheer team at Grace only exists because students came up with the idea.” She then googled cheer team videos of cheer teams competing, and showed me a YouTube video of a well-known cheer team at a competition. She was trying to show me a “real” cheer team, and showing her expectations she has for the cheer team to become a varsity sport.

The 2015-2016 cheer sports season was the first season that cheer performed. They performed at basketball games, and the reaction was not always positive. At one point, a Snapchat circulated; it was a video of the cheerleaders with the caption “lowkey ashamed.” This angered a lot of people, but at the same time, there were some people who shared that same point of view. I talked to Natalie Raver-Golsby ‘18, who was not a supporter of the cheer team in the beginning, to better understand her perspective. When I asked her if I could talk to her about this issue, she was more than happy to. I asked her about her negative views of the cheer team and the message she believed they sent. She explained,“I wasn’t originally against the cheer team… but it didn’t feel official, it just looked like people felt it was a way to get out of P.E. Stereotypically, cheerleading has objectified women. However I think that is an old version. A lot of it has to do with women’s sexuality. My mind has changed now in a way. I am neither here nor there in terms of the cheer team. I’m more indifferent and everyone can do whatever they want.”

I feel as though I have acquired a new perspective on how people treat the cheer team. To me, I feel as though the cheer team is judged and not taken as seriously as they should be. If people were posting Snapchat videos of the Model UN team saying how shameful the team was, there would be an uproar. The girls on the cheer team work hard, and even though they don’t compete, they go to every home basketball game for both the boys and girls teams and practice multiple times a week. They add spirit to the games and are often the only ones cheering our teams on. There is absolutely no reason to put the cheer team down. People are also judging them on what they wear: they are a group of girls wearing short skirts with shorts underneath, is that really that offensive? 2017 has been a year in which women have taken a stand, starting with the Women’s Marches all around the country in January. At this point, there is no reason for the shaming and marginalization of women. The fact that it is still happening shows that our society has a long way to go before we can accept and respect women.

One Reply to “Feminism in Cheerleading at GCS”

  1. Steven Zaretsky

    Excellent article and it brings up a lot of important points. Feminism’s view of cheerleading, the dedication (and finances) required for competitive cheer, the dearth of cheerleading programs at other independent schools in NYC are all discussion-worthy topics. Grace should be proud of the efforts and achievements of these young women; they’re a part of what makes Grace so special.

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