Community Opinion

Upside Down Under

A fading school activity…..

Could someone explain why so many schools have gone away from cheerleading?

By Marvin Baker

And many of the schools that have cheerleaders have scaled back on the numbers and have a fraction of the girls involved as there were 20 years ago. Did I miss something? Does this have anything to do with Title IX? Are girls just no longer interested?

Back in the day, every school had cheerleaders, even the ones that no longer exist. When I was in high school in Hazelton, I remember the Hague Patriots coming to town with barely enough players for their boys basketball team, yet they had a full complement of cheerleaders.

My school had cheerleaders for every sport except track. It included girls basketball, which you would think, would dilute the numbers of both activities, but it didn’t. We also had a pretty darn good dance team that would come out at halftime and perform for the crowd. That’s another thing you really don’t see much of these days.

When I worked at the Cavalier County Republican in Langdon, I remember going to games in Munich where they had a fantastic dance team. And, as most of us know, Munich is a small town just like Hazelton. So today, there are much bigger schools that don’t support a cheerleading squad. I can’t imagine it would be too expensive or too dangerous to include the activity in any school.

It seems that every year during the state basketball tournaments, the Hazen dance team continues to perform for a statewide audience. For many years, Carrington has had that tradition, and it continues. So I have to ask the question, if Hazen and Carrington can support it, why can’t numerous other schools?

The big schools do. Look at Minot High School. It has a squad, no wait, it’s more like a platoon of cheerleaders. The parents of two former cheerleaders are vendors in our farmers market. The girls graduated several years ago, but they still support the Minot High Cheer Team. Fargo South, Grand Forks Red River, Jamestown, Bismarck St. Mary’s all have their respective cheerleaders for football, basketball and hockey.

When you look at it, hockey adds its own unique challenges because the cheerleaders wear skates just like the players, and that’s got to be a hard sell.

There’s just something about those chants that get the crowd fired up. It’s long in tradition in North Dakota schools, especially in football. Remember seeing the cheerleaders on the sidelines continually chanting and getting the players motivated? In my school, they wore black and gold just like the players and were as much a part of the team as the players and coaches.

There is something that can be said for school population, however. As numbers in rural schools continue to shrink, there are fewer girls to take part in cheerleading, and further more, many of those who would have been cheerleaders in the 1970s and ‘80s, are now playing girls hockey, volleyball or basketball.

Cheerleading is still listed as an activity on the North Dakota High School Activities website, so it must remain a legitimate activity in the state. There used to be arguments about whether or not cheerleading is a sport. It turns out that officially, yes, cheerleading is a sport so girls, and a select few boys, can get a school letter in cheerleading. Why not? It’s probably a lot safer than any of the sports previously mentioned. Plus, it’s a prestige thing. High school cheerleaders often assume leadership positions not only for their squads but for the team and in some cases the entire school population.

As we see all the schools in North Dakota that are gaining in numbers, we really don’t see corresponding numbers trying out for cheerleading. A lot of kids complain that there isn’t anything to do in a small town. If they had a cheerleading squad, that would mitigate at least part of that boredom.

There’s also the generational pride quotient. Do you realize that some of the schools that do have cheerleading, three generations of the same family have been involved with the same team. That’s remarkable, and my guess is it would be much the same in the smaller schools, probably more so because of fewer numbers in the school’s general population.

It’s a noble activity, it’s fun, the fans love it, the players are motivated by it and parents are happy because of less risk of injury.