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Give me a B. Give me an I. Give me an M. Give me a B. Give me an O.

 

 

Americans love getting worked up. Americans love sport. Ergo – Americans love getting worked up about sport: hence the uniquely American phenomenon of cheerleading was born.

 

 

Cheerleading was started in 1800 in America – by a guy. He stood up at a game and started to get the crowd involved by screaming, yelling and jumping up and down. The coach saw the effect this was having on his team and decided it was a good thing.

 

Cheerleading was predominately a male sport until it was taken over by the women in the 1940s when all the men went away to the fight in World War Two. Although you have to ask, if all the men were away at war, who was actually doing all the playing of the football for the cheerleaders to cheer for? Presumably there was a time in America when all the footballers had flat feet and dodgy inner ears – or else there were some very girly blokes on the team?

 

 

What is a cheerleader’s favourite food?

 

A Cheerio!

 

 

Cheerleading has migrated to Australia. At last count an Australian cheerleading website, the Australian Spirit of Australia, had just over sixty cheerleading squads scattered around the country. These range from schools to community groups who do it just for the heck of it.

 

Griffith University is one of the first Australian universities to start its own cheerleading club. Last year students Letty Fox and Kate Stevens were watching a Griffith University Greendoggs’ basketball game. They were appalled by the lack of crowd support.

 

“We have top level athletes at Griffith,” said Letty. “We wanted to support them.”

 

With absolutely no idea of what to expect and very little cheerleading experience (Kate had done cheerleading in Canada, but that was about it) Letty and Kate decided to launch themselves into the world of cheerleading and get a Griffith Gold Coast cheerleading team up and running.

 

 

Give me a G. Give me an R. Give me an I. Give me an F. Give me an IFF.

 

They set up a little table on club sign on day and attracted over seventy people – both men and women. Many people don’t realize it, but cheerleading is a unisex sport. It needs men a much as it needs women. Griffith cheerleader Richard Rae wishes there were more men on the team. Men have unique abilities. They are stronger and differently built (quite bleedin obviously) so they compliment the wiry strength and the flexibility of the women. Richard is very much a man’s man. He is not wearing a short skirt, but perfectly ordinary shorts and the team practice shirt. He is rough, tough, sweaty and sporting a two day beard when he speaks to me at his squad’s practice. Just like a rugby player he has a war wound from that day’s practice. His arm is sore from a bad catch (a girl not a ball).

 

Not really knowing what they were doing at first, the cheerleading team made it up as they went along. “We thought we were doing really well,” said Letty. But the team gained some American and Canadian members with cheerleading backgrounds. They took one look at the fledgling squad and they began to teach the Australians how to cheerlead properly. “I think they were afraid we were going to kill each other,” said Letty.

 

The most important lesson the American and Canadians taught the Griffith team was that cheerleading is a dangerous sport. Like any sport from rugby to squash there are the usual aches and sprains, said Richard. However the more advanced forms of cheerleading are much more demanding. Many of the routines involve circus like stunts and flyers (usually girls, who are tossed into the air in acrobatic stunts) are the ones most at risk.  In America there have been serious injuries and even deaths from cheerleading accidents.

 

 

What is a cheerleader’s favourite colour?

 

Yeller.

 

 

But despite the risks the Griffith cheerleaders wanted to go beyond the usual pom pom waving seen in the movies and move into the more acrobatic stunts. Letty, Kate, and the club president Belinda, scoured the Internet and saw what cheerleading possibilities were out there.

 

Letty showed me a video of a Thai team performing in an international cheerleading competition. Watching the Thai team compete was like watching a performance of Cirque du Soleil. However to do these mind-blowing stunts the girls realized safety would have to be their primary concern.

 

It is no minor commitment to join the Griffith cheerleading squad. Its watchword is ‘absolute care’. Team members must even sign a contract saying they will commit to the team.

 

Team member Caitlin said members commit to at least six hours of training a week. This doesn’t just involved cheerleading practice. Each week they attend gymnastic classes, spend two hours at the gym improving their general fitness and body strength and then practice their routines on Sundays.

 

Team members are not allowed to go out drinking on a Saturday night because of practice the next day. If they are sick or hung over they are allowed to watch, but cannot participate in training sessions. You have to be 100% focused because of the risks, said Kate.

 

Accidents happen because people do not take the sport seriously. “People have no idea what the competitive cheerleading involves,” said sports medicine pediatrician Dr. Sally Harris.

 

However the squad doesn’t mind the risks. It is the stunts that get the crowd excited, said Richard. And ‘Drill Sergeant’ Letty Fox agreed that the more challenging stunts were the ones the team enjoyed the most, but that the team understands the risks and is prepared to commit to the rules.  

 

But there is also another side to cheerleading that the Griffith team is very aware of. Most people associate cheerleading with American teen dramas depicting blonde prom queen bimbos vying for a spot on the team so they can score with the football jocks?

 

TV shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer with Cordelia as the ‘talk to the hand’ popular cheerleader and movies such as ‘Cheerleading Ninja’s’, where cheerleaders and Startrek nerds battle Catholic schoolgirls to save the world from global Internet zombie domination might be part of the explanation.

 

Cheerleading got its bad name in the seventies. According to Richard, horror movies were the reason cheerleaders gained the bimbo reputation. It is only in the last 15 years has cheerleading began to be seen than less of a teen slasher bimbo fest and more of a serious sport.

 

But even now the perception of a cheerleader’s role varies widely. When asked what cheerleading was, feminist and Australian author Kate Orman defined it as “providing sexual entertainment for men at sports events.”

 

Kate doesn’t think for one second think that cheerleaders are prostituting themselves, but it is concerned that it is a very sexually charged environment and people can take what they want out of any experience.

 

 

 

 

 

American writer Jon Blum said he had known many high school cheerleaders who were straight A Students. However Kate argues while there is a lot of athletic skill involved in cheerleading – like most things in life, it all comes down to sex.

 

“They are shaking their tits and arse for the gents. No matter how smart or capable they are, they are just tits and arse, interchangeable with the next set of tits and arse.”

 

“In a society where our looks are the most important thing about us, and where we

make less money than men, I think it's unfair to judge a woman who uses her face

or body to earn money. My concern is how she'll be treated,” said Kate.

 

Many share this view. Cheerleaders tend to be very good looking athletic people in very short skirts. “Sex is always there. If anyone looks at anyone sex is always a factor,” said feminist and author and Phoenix Delacroix.  Phoenix argues no matter how much they try cheerleaders are always going to be objectified.

 

The Griffith team realizes this factor and takes steps to minimize the negative cheerleading stereotype and the potential dangers to their squad members. They do this by a code of absolute professionalism. When the Griffith team is performing they have rules they must follow. Their uniform is for performances only. They cannot wear it outside a game. They cannot use bad language; they cannot make obscene gestures; they cannot interact with the crowd (no waving to mum); and woe betides any squad member who leaves their mobile phone on.

 

 

Why did the cheerleader cross the road?

 

To get to the other side – just like everyone else. Cheerleaders are real people too you know.

 

 

Cheerleading can have a dramatic effect on the morale of the team and the enjoy ability of the sporting event. Caitlin said that back in America sporting events were huge. Only half the fun was watching the game: the other half came from the crowd and the sense of occasion. The cheerleaders were essential to create that atmosphere.

 

Greendoggs’ coach Rob Garner said that his basketball team loved having the cheerleaders to support them. Through many years playing and coaching team sports Rob is very aware of the importance of team spirit, friendship and morale. He considers this to be just as important as fitness and athletic skill.  

 

The Griffith squad has even been heckled by other universities who don’t have their own cheerleaders. Letty thinks this is because Australia hasn’t developed the cheerleading culture yet. Caitlin said in America and Canada it is drilled into you. When the cheerleaders cheer – you cheer. In Australia we are a little tentative about this idea of spontaneous enthusiasm.

 

There is also the problem of overcoming the stereotypes. Writer Kate Orman admits that while she is wary of cheerleading, like many Australians it is an area she doesn’t know much about beyond the rumour and stereotypes. But she is willing to learn.

 

Letty agrees the biggest problem is Australians are ignorant about cheerleading. She is mulling over the cheerleaders first gig for 2006: club sign on day. She feels a lot of people will be dumbstruck when they see the squad perform.

 

“They will be uncomfortable and they won’t know what to do,” said Letty.

 

It will be up to the skill of the cheerleaders to break the ice and encourage people to forget their inhibition and just go with the cheerleading flow.   

 

When you really boil the role of a cheerleader down it is this: they get up in public and waggle around in various interesting ways to make other people happy.

 

Which can either be rather sweet or rather creepy, depending on how you view it.

 

 

 

 

Zen and the Art of the Pom Pom

 

 

You must respect the pom pom

You must be one with the pom pom

You must approach the pom pom with trepidation and awe

 

You must love the pom pom

You must marvel in its pomminess

You must take care to hold the pom pom by the handle as if the poms tangle your ability to pom will suffer

 

Imagine the pom pom in your mind

Imagine the possibilities of the pom pom

 

Wield it like the fox

Thrust it like a dagger

Wave it like the wind

 

And your team shall surely go on to glorious victory