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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
On Serendip

Cheerleading Men

Thida Aye

It all began at a Princeton University football game. Thomas Peebler gathered 6 men who led a yell on the sidelines in front of the student body. In 1884, he took the yell to the University of Minnesota campus. On November 2, 1898, a cheerleader by the name of Johnny Campbell got so excited that he jumped out in front of the crowd. That's how cheerleading was started.

Whether you are a cheerleader on an all female, an all male, or a co-ed squad, you are striving towards one goal. That goal is to effectively lead a crowd in support of an athletic team and to generate spirit and pride within a school or community. Today cheerleading enjoys a reputation of being an important leadership force on practically every high school and college campus in America. All of this is because of a man named Johnny Campbell in Minnesota who couldn't stand sitting in the bleachers. He had to be in front of them!

The guys on the team at my high school perform back springs, hand tucks, and towering pyramids and basket tosses with the greatest of ease. Most of them are more than six feet tall and weigh in at more than 200 pounds. They train every day for hours, compete in national competitions and appear on TV. And while their catches are worth more than six points and a field goal, it would be easy to mistake them for football players but they're not. They're cheerleaders.

The guys consider themselves part of the squad, and they say there is no sport more challenging. These male members provide the base of all the stunts, a feat that requires tossing their female counterparts as high as 25 feet in the air. They are, for all practical purposes, the safety nets that stand between the soaring, cheering women and the cold, hard ground. It's a job, which requires a great amount of strength, skill and coordination. They say, "cheerleading gets you in the best shape of your life and if you've ever carried anything over your head, you'll understand." One would think the responsibility of providing a buffer between the floor and several falling female bodies could become a little stressful. Simon, one of the four guys on the team, claims that basing stunts becomes instinctive to guy cheerleaders. "When we're cheering, our bodies and minds are so in tune that it's ultimately what we do best," he explains. "It becomes second nature." Concentration is a key aspect of the sport because if they lose focus, someone can get hurt. In other words, if a mistake is made during a routine, the guys can't simply move out of the way. They say it's their job to sacrifice their own safety to make sure the girls they are supporting don't fall. But not everyone associates cheering with such a high-intensity sport. Many students picture male cheerleaders in a very different light. Most people usually think of guy cheerleaders as a little on the feminine side. This isn't an unusual representation of the athletes. The most common image of male cheerleaders is less than glowing. The biggest problem is ignorance. People just don't know what cheerleading is. But after the first time someone watches guy cheerleaders, they begin to understand. Even some of the guys admit that they were originally against the idea to join the team because of the negative stereotypes. Training for cheerleading is a constant commitment, which means the teammates don't even have time for summer or part-time jobs. Even when school is out, the team often gets together for three practice sessions a day. "It's crazy. We devote about 5,000 hours of practice of life to a routine that takes two minutes," Simon says. "But it's worth it. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't," he concludes, nodding toward three of his teammates. "This is a major commitment. Once you're in, you're in for the haul, and you have to be mentally tough." But the hard work and the dedication make up just part of the work that goes into being invited to the annual national championships. The squad is required to participate in anywhere from 200 to 300 public relations events a year. "Basically, joining this team was the best decision of my life," Simon says. "It gave me a group of friends who have become like family, a chance to compete on a national level and the opportunity to see parts of the country I never thought I'd see." So while these guys may not be the center of athletic attention, there is something to be said for the men who won't let our women fall.Male cheerleader: For many people, these words create a vision of a man dressed in a woman's uniform, chirping rhymes and waving batons. It's almost the prototype of a threat to masculinity. Despite this notion, these four brave men have joined the cheerleading squad and waged war against the prevalent stereotype. Keeping up with the times, the once entirely female team is now officially coed. And, of course, quite a few students still cannot accept cheerleading as a viable activity for men. Even so, those are not the only problems many people have with cheerleading. The timeless question inevitably pops up: Is cheering really a sport? Anyone who's been to a lacrosse game recently knows that the best cheerleading move is, without a doubt, the "pendulum." In this daring stunt, one cheerleader stands precariously on the hands of another, falls into a bed of hands, and then is instantly tossed back up to the hands from which she fell. This move is nearly impossible without the physical strength and support provided by men on the squad. Therefore, male cheerleaders are a staple of almost all collegiate teams. Male cheering is just as commonplace these days as pleated skirts and pom-poms. As the old saying goes, "Any man can hold a cheerleader's hand, but only the elite can hold her feet."

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