Cheerleaders seek respect for their hard work
Some call it a sport.
Others scoff at such a notion.
Or is it even necessary to cram cheerleading into a rigidly defined category?
'We don't just jump around in skirts,' says Sandy High School's cheerleading coach, Erin Littlepage. 'We actually condition.'
'They're athletes,' Littlepage goes on to say of her girls. 'Even if it's not a sport, they're still athletes. They do just as much as anyone else does.'
Littlepage describes two hour and forty-five minute practice sessions that take place regardless of weather conditions.
Those sessions include running drills that rival the work of the Sandy cross country team.
'We run hills,' says Littlepage. 'We run hills with a person on our back…the things that the girls do is just as hard as everybody else.'
Sandy's athletic director, Courtney Murphy, has an extensive background in cheerleading. She has spent considerable time at Reynolds High School and Rex Putnam High School as the cheerleading coach at each of those institutions.
So, obviously, an athletic director with a cheer background should be expected to do endorse cheerleading as a sport, right?
'I think it's an activity,' says Murphy. 'What I would really call it is an athletic activity. Simply because they do athletic things, but their primary purpose is to promote school spirit.'
Murphy though, is sensitive to the fact that cheerleaders exist in a kind of no man's land in the realm of high school sports.
'You have to do a lot of work behind the scenes that's never recognized and maybe never will be,' she says.
Philosophically, Murphy may have a slightly different view than Littlepage, but that doesn't mean the two are at odds with one another.
Quite the contrary - Murphy raves about her school's cheerleading coach.
'If I had to hire a cheerleading coach,' says Murphy, 'I couldn't think of anyone better. She's excellent.'
Both Littlepage and Murphy think stereotypical notions of cheerleaders - specifically the type perpetuated in film and television - are outdated.
'Cheerleaders nowadays don't act that way,' says Littlepage. 'There's all sorts of different types of kids who cheer. It's not so much 'you have to be a prom queen to be a cheerleader.' '
Nor do you have to be, well, a girl.
'First of all,' says Murphy. 'I think it's important for people to know that cheerleading started with men. Girls were not allowed to do it. In this day and age, it's coming back to more of a balance.'
Murphy says that she is approached fairly often at football games by male fans who want permission to start 'The Wave.'
'Oftentimes,' she says, 'you find it's young men who are wanting to get involved.'
True. Five boys have already joined Sandy's cheerleading program in time for the winter sports season. The group includes football player Traven Lutz.
And cheerleaders at Sandy High School are branching out into areas beyond football and basketball. Littlepage notes that Pioneer cheerleaders are encouraged to attend water polo games, equestrian competitions and even drama events.
Granted, the girls aren't always donning pom-pons and skirts, but their presence helps foster a sense of school spirit.
'At a basketball game,' says Murphy, 'if the cheerleaders are there, that's a bonus. But you don't notice it to the degree that you would at a water polo game.'
That sort of contribution has a real leadership dimension to it, according to Murphy.
'I'm a believer that 'leader' should come before the word 'cheer,' ' says Murphy. 'Cheerleading and leadership is the backbone of your school morale.'