At the beginning of this year, the topic of high school cheerleading made it all the way to the State Supreme Court and onto the pages of ESPN online. It's actually a really interesting case...
As a cheerleader all throughout middle school, high school and beyond into college (Go Indians...Go Red Storm!), I get super pumped when cheerleading makes it into the headlines. Heck, I get excited when I come across cheerleading competitions on TV, but when regular folk and sports-talking guys are mentioning spirit fingers, I get all warm, fuzzy and proud inside.
The case: Varsity cheerleader, Brittany Noffke from Holmen High School in western Wisconsin decided to sue a male teammate who was her designated "spotter" (for you non-cheerleaders, it means exactly what you think it means), and failed to catch her when she fell backwards out of a stunt. She ended up with a serious head injury.
Seriously, cheerleading can be dangerous, y'all!
So, what do you think? Can you sue a teammate for not catching you? The question at hand for the Wisconsin State Supreme Court was if cheerleading was a contact sport or not. If they decided that yes, cheering should be lumped with football and other contact sports, high schools and teammates would not be held accountable when someone gets hurt (including Brittany's teammate). In other words, join the squad at your own risk. But, is cheerleading really at the same level as football with injuries and danger? And should there be no consequence for dropping a teammate??
In the greater sense of the question, it's hard for me to deem cheerleading a "sport." I typically only associate games as sports, i.e. an athletic event with rules and a clear winner and loser at the end. Soccer games, baseball games, etc. The main and original purpose of cheerleading is to support the players in those aforementioned games. Even when we show off our amazing abilities in competitions, there is still no clear cut winner/loser. A panel of judges grades each team on their fancy footwork and the "wow factor" of their performance.... how does that fit? In my world of sports, a team can play a dirty and messy game and still win.
But then there are the Olympics. They just throw a huge wrench in my idea of sports. Figure skating, gymnastics, diving... the winners for each are determined by judges and they are all absolutely considered sports. What is the definition of a sport anyway? Dictionary.com defines a sport as "physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively." By that definition, cheerleading qualifies for sport status. But, contact sport status?? There is no risk in the actual "leading of cheers." When a team begins engaging in stunts and gymnastics, though, it gets more serious. In fact, tons of squads across the country do not allow their cheerleaders to stunt or tumble for the specific reason that those activites are dangerous.
And voila, with that last statement, I think I have my answer.
Cheerleading that incorporates stunting and gymnastics is a contact sport, and schools and teammates cannot be held monetarily liable if someone gets hurt. The nature of the sport is dangerous and you should know that going in. Tossing people high into the air, balancing a person on human hands (at least) six feet in the air and forcefully springing your body into the air unnaturally can potentially cause injuries, just as sacking a quarterback can potentially cause injuries. And yes, if your teammate drops you, he should be reprimanded, but not in the courtroom and not to pay for your medical bills. No one forced you to cheerlead and no one forced you to be the girl in the air. We all make mistakes and injuries happen in cheerleading.
Do you agree with me? Check out the full story from ESPN Rise online.
PS - the Wisconsin Supreme Court felt the same way I did. On January 27, 2009 cheerleading was made an official contact sport, at least in the eyes of Wisconsin.