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Curve Balls: Cheering Is One Part Sport, One Part Theater

Special to the Valley News
Published: 8/29/2017 11:51:26 PM
Modified: 8/29/2017 11:51:30 PM

Picture this: Scores of girls with elaborate hairdos, gigantic Minnie Mouse bows in their hair and enough hairspray to lacquer Interstate 89.

Beauty pageant? No, a cheerleading competition.

Not in Texas, Kansas or the Dakotas either; this is happening in a town near you because cheering is now a sport. Surprised?

My husband said everyone should go to one competition in his or her life to experience the spectacle of 1,000 girls screaming and doing the cha-cha slide together in a college gym, so I decided to join him.

The huge gym was packed with teams with clothing in special bags, bored brothers lugging makeup bags, mothers carrying hair supplies and dads pulling coolers.

I sat down near a squad and heard a mom say, “OK, everyone, body check for piercings.” This was going to be something.

Cheering is theater. The movements are precise strikes coordinated with shouts and flips, punctuated by tossing the littlest ones onto the top of very tall human towers. Gave me the chills, but it never lasted long enough to really scare me.

The teams had three minutes to do a long list of things, and they were fast, efficient and smiling, smiling, smiling. Mostly, the guys were there as muscle and occasionally did funny gags like flexing. Some brandished the school flags like old-fashioned color guards.

But with the rising popularity of gymnastics for kids of both genders, cheering seems to be attracting everyone.

One team had a firecracker of a kid, a Michael Jackson look-alike who seemed to be jointless, made of rubber bands.

Cheering is inclusive. One team had a girl who was completely bald; there was no way of knowing the cause, but she rocked out like everyone else.

There are kids of all sizes, which I wouldn’t have thought logistically possible, since lifts are involved. The big girls did those jumps and shook their groove things as much and as fast as their slimmer sisters.

The coaches were a show in and of themselves. Imagine two adults roped off into a faraway section of the area, coffee-wired, decked out in full school colors with bling and flair head to toe, mouthing all the words while mimicking the moves and then jumping up and down like lottery winners.

I had trouble drawing my eyes from them; they were just this side of crazed, like contestants on The Price Is Right.

But even this description cannot fully prepare you for this sight.

I encourage everyone to take in a cheering competition one Saturday afternoon. You won’t think about cheerleading the same way again.

We may need to reexamine our ideas about what qualifies as a sport. A cheer team member routinely does the following:

Throws teammates up and down in the air.

Does backflips from a running start,

Makes ladders out of hands, backs and shoulders.

Executes dance moves facing in all directions

Chants rhymes in unison in shiny pantyhose, with hair stiff as a board.

Repeats this at least twice in the time it takes to pop a bag of microwave popcorn.

One could argue that a cheerleader is a waste of an athlete, but after seeing these kids do flips, turns, twists, jumps, pyramids and dances, I no longer can laugh in agreement.

If you can get past the notion that some of them resemble a Barbie doll come to life, you can see the strength and agility these young people display.

There was one thing that baffles me about this sport, however. They do not cheer for any of their school’s teams. They do not get the crowd roused for the big game, playoffs, tourney or anything. They do their gymnastics and drill sergeant yelling for judges and each other.

Go figure.

Deb Beaupre writes periodically on sports from the parental point-of-view despite the fact that she once referred to uniforms as costumes. She lives in Meriden.

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