We are coming into football season soon and this is by far one of my favorite times of the year! I am from the south, so there is nothing quite like college football (sorry Pro). The fans for a college game in the south cannot be beat. The atmosphere! The band! (The drum line gets me every time). And, let’s not forget the cheerleaders. Something I did in college and something that is very dangerously on the brink of going away at any moment.
What? Is it under some immediate threat? Yep… itself. The single most dangerous thing to cheerleading and it’s existence is what is required to happen on the sideline every game. Baskets, stunts, standing tumbling, jumps.. all of it. Why? Cheerleading is one catastrophic injury away from getting banned and limited to nothing but a dance team.
The proof? The last major rules change in college cheerleading is when the girl from Southern Illinois University fell off a pyramid at a basketball game. She fell badly, had to get a neck brace and wheeled off the floor, and bravely performed her fight song as she was led off. In fact, her being such a ‘cheerleader’ may have led to a worse outcome for all of us. The brave little soul cheering her heart out makes for a wonderful story… and causes everyone to take pause and question what all we do at a game. Suddenly cheering at a college basketball game has been severely limited. Stricter rules to make sure no one hurts themselves again. Limiting pyramids, baskets, stunts, and tumbling to make sure no on gets hurt like that again.
But there is a fundamental flaw in all this: cheerleading carries risk. It is a risk that all sideline cheerleaders take only for the reward of leading and entertaining a crowd. I did it. I loved it. I knew the risks and sometimes paid the price for those risks (2 major and 9 minor concussions, 1 split lip from the base of my teeth all the way to almost my chin, 1 knee injured so bad insurance will not cover it, 4 broken fingers, and all the other ones so small that cheerleaders train trough every day) but I would not trade it for the world. But my cheerleading, the cheerleading I did in college, no longer exists. And it will continue to go away with each well publicized injury in the news.
My coach even said it in college… we are one bad basket away from never throwing baskets ever again. Imagine it is the national championship football game and Alabama (who has a talented and amazing program) has a girl have one mental slip in the middle of a basket late in the game of the 4th quarter and the basket goes horribly wrong. Maybe it’s wet out.. or they are at the Orange bowl and everyone is so sweaty and slippery that she goes through and hits the ground. Or maybe its not Alabama… maybe its the other team that plays Alabama. Their cheerleading team is not good but has heard about how amazing Alabama is. So they have been working their skills to try and be comparable.
Either way you see this is frighteningly possible, and, in the end, inevitable. At some point we will doom ourselves to be allowed to do nothing on the sidelines but rah rah sis boom bah.
That is why college cheerleading needs something that is a sport. Something to aspire to. Something to compete in. Something so when my child is 18 and heads off to college there is something around close to what her daddy and mommy did. I am not sure it is the NCSTA. (terrible name, btw). But right now it is the only thing currently out there. I know Varsity is working on something (or says they are) but it needs to get here sooner rather than later. With the internet and YouTube all these amazingly high flying acrobatic skills are now easily accessible for ANY cheerleading coach to see and want to try. College or high school.
And yes, safety has gotten better. It would be ignorant to say it has not. But with the way the cheerleading is now we are at a zero fail situation. All the hard work, safety training, EVERYTHING hinges on the fact that there could be at least one coach out there who has no FRIGGIN’ clue what they are doing. When you have a bad football coach you just lose. When you have a bad cheerleading coach, people get hurt and could die. So the wrong coach, at the wrong time, with the wrong kids, with the right media coverage could change everything.
So, Varsity, NCSTA (please change the name.. please? It looks like NC State), or anyone get something in place sooner rather than later. It will be much harder to push and have a sport put in a colleges if and when someone does go off and really hurt themselves. Thanks.