Cheerleading’s Not a Sport, Is It?

by Eddie Mayrose

In his book, Hate Mail from Cheerleaders, former Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly recalls the incendiary comments he made about cheerleaders that sparked the mountain of protest letters he received. “Cheerleading is not a sport!”, wrote Reilly.  “There are ten or twelve sports for girls at every high school.  If you want to play a sport, get in between the lines and play a real sport.  But, wearing a circle skirt and a tight sweater and facing away from the field going, ’2-4-6-8′ is not a sport!”

Now, I must admit, there was a time I’d have screamed, “Amen” to all of that.  I had three boys playing different sports throughout the entire year and a daughter doing the same.  So, when she came to her mom as a fifth grader to ask for help in petitioning me to allow her to join the cheerleading team, I was not happy.  I had an extremely dim view of everything about the activity (certainly not a sport); from the over-the-top parents to the considerable expense.  “What’s wrong with basketball, track and softball?”, I asked.  “Heck, if you’d like, I’ll even teach you to play golf.”  But, she was not to be swayed so, much to my chagrin, I became a “cheerleader parent”.

I spent much of the first few months of that season whining about the amount of time, money and driving demanded of me.  I had already decided that she would be “one and done” and was preparing to have that difficult discussion with my little girl when I attended her first competition.  Now, there are epiphanies in all of our lives that open our eyes to just how stupidly we’ve acted in a given situation.  This was, absolutely, one of mine.  Seeing the athleticism of my daughter and her teammates and realizing the dedication and grit that went into coordinating such a precise, gymnastic routine put an end to my griping.  Almost, anyway.  It still cost a lot of money and required a lot of my time but I now knew how much I would enjoy the results of all the hard work.  My complaints shifted toward the infrequency of the competitions and away from their very existence.

Upon entering high school, Lindsay rededicated herself to the grueling training regimen that goes with cheering on that level.  Gymnastic camps, tumbling instruction, dance and strength training were added to the twice-weekly, three hour practice sessions.  Stress, fatigue and injury were also very much a part of the equation, just as it had been for her brothers playing football, basketball and baseball.  There was no element of a “real sport” missing from cheering while the greatest benefit of all team sports; camaraderie, was magnified.  The support that these female athletes give to each other and receive from their coaches is astounding.  Oh, yeah, that reminds me.  The coaches.

There isn’t an athlete among us, from little leaguer to professional and every level in between, that doesn’t include a great coach as part of any tale involving a successful season and this one is no exception.  Kim Rex and Donna Tobacco pushed, prodded, challenged and inspired in the fashion of great coaches anywhere: guiding the squad to the first NY State Championship in the school’s history while setting an example of pride and sportsmanship;  especially when an intense rivalry turned ugly.  Their dedication was steadfast: achieving levels never before reached by the program while handling tumultuous times in their personal lives.  Again, nothing we haven’t heard before about a successful coach anywhere else which, I guess, is my point.

So, tonight, Lindsay Mayrose, Paige Farina, Erin Carsten, Amanda Kearns and twelve of their classmates will make the traditional graduation march at St. Joseph Hill Academy as championship student-athletes, having forged successful athletic careers during their high school tenure.  There will be no circle skirts or tight sweaters and not a one will be chanting “2-4-6-8.”  Rather, they will have left a legacy of success behind them, one that will serve to inspire those that follow.  As for you, Mr. Reilly, keep your head up.  There’s an epiphany headed your way.  Trust me.

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