Of COURSE Cheerleading Is Tough -- It's a Freaking Sport!

Would a show called "Little League Lads" get the same hand wringing cries about how horrible the fast-talking coach is on the "scared little boys"?
Publish date:
July 11, 2012
sports, cheer perfection, cheerleading, hard, TLC

"You guys are pathetic," she hissed from her fold-out throne in the middle of the empty basketball court. The six of us had just finished a 4-minute competition routine for Nationals. Toe touches, a kick line, double turns and several leaps later we still weren't close to ready. At least according to our coach. "Again," she said.

Sucking it up, we silently stepped back into first formation and did it again -- and again, and again. We got yelled at, we got pushed, we were pressured and some of us were in crazy pain. But you know what that's called? Sports.

As such I found some of the headlines heralding TLC's new reality show, "Cheer Perfection" a bit disappointing. Premiering tonight, the show chronicles all the behind-the-scenes action of a youth cheerleading squad. Articles about it continue to mention how "cutthroat" the competition is and how "tough" coach Alisha Dunlap is on a bunch of "scared" little girls.

Would a show called "Little League Lads" get the same hand wringing cries about how horrible the fast-talking coach is on the "scared little boys"? Would pushy "Pop Warner Pops" get pegged as abusive? Doubt it. Also TLC, you're welcome.

Now there are those among you -- non-believers -- who might balk at the mere suggestion that cheerleading is in fact a sport. Sure, rah rah-ing and sis-boom-bah-ing on the sidelines of a football game doesn't always look sporty (or hard). But three-person high stunts, gymnastics, acrobats, dancing, team work and competition are all part of Cheerleading 2.0. Gone are they days of megaphones and monogrammed sweaters.

These days girls as young as four become "flyers" (the brave one at the very top of the pyramid) and parents are paying a high premium to have their kids "cheer" on all-star competition squads that aren't actually cheering for anyone except a panel of judges.

Granted when one of the show's "gym moms" says of Coach Dunlap, "She can yell at my kids. She can hit her face. Whatever it takes to make her the best. I wanna win," it's a little, um, off-putting. What parent on this side of sane would advocate that their kid get hit in the face by anyone, much less a non-related authority figure?

But then I remembered all the times my dance teacher smacked my out-stretched arms to keep them "tight" or when my cheer coach pushed my leg up against the side of my head, holding it there until I nearly passed out. "I want 'em HIGH!"

Yes, we hated her after practice, but we loved being the best. When I lost at Nationals in my "solo song routine" division, my coach was the first person to say "You could've done better" before offering her shoulder for me to sob all over.

For me, what's most troubling about "Cheer Perfection" (and my other guilty pleasure, "Dance Moms") isn't how brutal the sport is, but how bat shit the parents are. In all my years of cheering/dancing (high school, college and professional) my mom never got involved beyond the annual bake sale.

"I wasn't a cheerleader as a child and I don't see anything wrong with living through your child," said one of the mothers who GMA's Juju Chang said makes Tiger Moms look like "kitty cats."

"They're unapologetic about it," said Chang of how intensely these "gym moms" push their children to perfection or at the very least a trophy. "We didn't spend all this money to lose," explains another mom watching from the bleachers.

Holding your kid to high standards is one thing -- a necessary thing if you ask me. But cat fights in the locker room is another. And living vicariously through someone who probably can't spell it is never a good look. Remember 21 years ago when Wanda Holloway plotted to murder her daughter's cheerleading rival?

"This is a critical year," Holloway explained to the man she thought would hire someone to kill a 14-year-old so that her daughter, Shanna, could make the squad. "She don't make it this year, she ain't never gonna make it."

Eventually Holloway was arrested for solicitation of capital murder. Out on bail after being found guilty she gave People Magazine an exclusive interview.

I never have tried to live through my child. We are so close, we even wear a lot of the same clothes. A lot of hers are too trendy for me, but I wear them anyway.

Oh, Wanda.

Whatever your extremism as a stage mom -- finger wagging for the cameras or straight up gangsta' shit -- it's never really about the kids, is it? Talented little girls, just like talented little boys, can be elbowed toward excellence without bruising their egos for good. Of course, our wee-ones are way tougher than they look. But if you look a little closer -- at the adult's tears and the trantrums -- perhaps the parents aren't.