By Sara Pool
“Whoever thought of chucking someone into the air and seeing how many times they can flip, that person is psychotic,” Morgan Simianer, one of the stars of Netflix’s “Cheer” jokes in the docuseries.
While cheerleaders sacrifice their body and time to constantly practice, and build up a mastery of oftentimes dangerous skills, including flying up in the air and hoping to be caught, they continue to be underfunded and overlooked by the athletics world.
This was made clear in “Cheer”, which follows the grueling 2019 season of Navarro College’s national championship winning cheerleading team. From the lack of funding for gear to the oftentimes absent sports medicine trainers “Cheer” showcases the glaring inequalities between cheerleading the rest of the collegiate sports world.
This lack of respect and funding is not unique to Navarro College, however, but is prevalent nationwide. One team who has struggled to be taken seriously as athletes is the cheer team at Loyola Marymount University (LMU).
LMU is a sideline cheer team which means that they are not recognized as a sports team by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Meaning they are given little to no funding from the school.
“With every year, our funding has been cut lower and lower to the point where we can barely cover the necessities that we need to be the team that both LMU and Athletics expects us to be,” Lauren Torres, a senior on the team said.
For example, the team must fundraise and pay out of pocket for their uniforms, while recognized sports programs like men’s basketball are drowning in gear and funding. According to an article on SB Nation published in 2018, LMU spent $3,645,976 on their men’s basketball team alone.
“Anyone who has been a cheerleader themselves knows that the funding for the sport is just expensive,” LMU’s Head Cheer Coach Nicole Martin said, “The uniforms are costly, the gym time, and everything is just costly. Anyone who is doing collegiate cheer is simply doing it because they love doing it, not because they are trying to get a scholarship.”
It is an expensive sport but nowhere near the cost of sports like basketball. The uniforms are pricey, coming in around $200 each, but comparatively that would be a little dent in the pool of $20,674,798 that the school spends on athletics each year according to College Factual.
Despite almost zero funding provided by the school, LMU provides more support than most universities by allowing the team to use athletic spaces like the gym and weight room.
“Other universities do not have cheerleading under the athletic department. Sometimes it is just a club or listed under student affairs. So, we are very fortunate to be under athletics,” Martin explained.
However, even at LMU what is provided is still subpar to other athletic programs at the school.
“LMU has sports medicine trainers available but they rarely take time to work with us. Our weight training sessions, which every team has, are run by other student athletes with no real certifications or professional training, rather than one of the many trainers who instead use our time as a break,” Torres explained.
This can be cause for alarm as the sport has one of the highest rates of injuries and relies on strength training to prevent them. In fact, according to a study done in 2019 by the medical journal, Pediatrics, cheerleading came in second as the sport with the most concussions sustained right after football.
Funding however may be changing with the attention of “Cheer” and Acrobatics and Tumbling, the competitive side of cheer, becoming a recognized sport by the NCAA. Collegiate cheer may finally be in a position to transform into something new.
“‘Cheer” brought a true reality of what cheerleading is, not the Bring It On story that is presented in the media. It really showed what goes into actual cheerleading,” Martin said.
Martin is referring to the 2000 movie which depicts cheerleading as more cattiness and dumb blondes than the dangerous and difficult sport it really is.
“You are reworking and you’re pushing and you’re redoing. You keep hitting it and hitting it. It’s repetitive. Your top girl goes down and you have to rework everything. It’s hard,” she said.
The cheerleaders at LMU have already started to see a difference in how they are treated as more and more people watch the series.
“Since it came out, we have received a lot more positive feedback from the university, and we never got positive or negative feedback from them in the past. People have told me how much they respect what we do and the work we put into practices, which is something that has never happened before,” Torres said.
Despite this upturn in interest, LMU has no plan in place to help the program secure any more funding, so Martin is trying to take it into her own hands.
“One of my goals as the coach of LMU is eventually to have funding so we could offer at the very least a book stipend, but that’s going to take some time,” Martin explain.
However as of now, it is a pay to play sport at LMU, but Torres is not losing hope that cheer will start to be recognized as more than just a hobby, but something serious that should be funded and respected.
“Will it happen? I don’t know. But I think for the first time we are really starting to be seen for what we really are and what we are actually doing,” she said.