Area cheerleading squads practiced all summer for the upcoming football season. According to area cheerleading coaches, most squads have very little time off even in the summer.
"We have tryouts in May, begin practice in June and finish sometime in March. We have maybe two months off a year," Jennifer Shearer, Danville High School cheerleading coach, said. "We work a lot during the summer. Our squad works on strength training and conditioning to improve skills. We go through drills, we run, we practice and we learn the competition routine and work on game situation material."
Boyle County and Lincoln County cheerleading squads have also been practicing.
"During the summer we practice two days a week for about three hours. Now that we are back in school, we are practicing three days a week, which is a lot less than what bigger, more competitive squads practice," Lincoln's cheer coach Kim Grimes said. "We allow our girls to participate in other sports, which limits the amount of time we can practice. Other competition squads who practice daily do not allow girls to participate in any other sports."
"During the summer we practiced five days a week. We had two days of boot camp and three days of practice. Throughout the school year I try to trim that down to two days a week plus one night of gymnastics," Boyle cheer coach Michelle Staed said.
Practicing after school is not the only requirement that area cheerleading squads have. Most squads attend some type of gymnastics training at least once a week.
"Our girls are required to attend gymnastics and we have an instructor who comes to us. Cheerleading is an expensive sport and it only costs us $10 a session - which is a major bargain. Most teams have to travel for gymnastic classes," Grimes said.
Making the grades
Academics are also held to high standard among area cheerleading squads. Even though the sport of cheerleading is not sanctioned by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, cheerleaders must maintain a certain grade-point average. Most schools have policies that govern all athletics, including cheerleading.
"Seven of our 14 cheerleaders are enrolled in AP courses and all must maintain at least a C average to be able to cheer at ballgames," said Shearer.
"Last year at the 12th Region KAPOS competition, Lincoln County had the most girls recognized as 12th Region academic cheerleaders. This is something that we are very proud of and our senior squad leaders often remind the younger girls that it is a tradition that better continue," Grimes said.
Although competitive on the football field and on the basketball court, all three cheerleading coaches agree on one issue. Cheerleading is a sport and cheerleaders are athletes.
"I can't imagine why someone would ever question the athleticism of a cheerleader unless they are hanging on outdated stereotypes. I think a lot of people respect cheerleading but don't think of it as a sport because they don't get to see what all happens behind the scenes," Shearer said.
"I think of it this way: Is gymnastics a sport? Yes, and we do that. Is weightlifting a sport? Yes, we do that, too. Is track a sport? Yes, and we run all the time.
"Cheerleading encompasses several sports in which no one would argue validity. To me, it seems obvious because a cheerleader's athleticism is blatantly obvious. No one would argue this point if they just paid a little attention - or at least tried to make it through one of our practices."
"Cheerleading is a sport because it requires training, strength, endurance and lots of practice. It is also competitive just like other sports and should not be viewed any differently", Grimes said.
"Cheerleaders work really hard and they are required to complete many athletic tasks and to compete often. I think that 20 years ago, cheerleading was not considered a sport, but today with all the flips, stunts and competitions it has really become much more a sport than an activity," Staed said.
Webster's dictionary defines an athlete as "a person trained in exercise or games requiring strength, skill, and stamina."
Cheerleaders exude all of these characteristics. Critics can debate the issue all they like. To me, the debate is over.