My wife, Susan, is a few years younger than me, and she looks younger than she is, so, when she first got out of grad school and starting teaching in high school, she often was mistaken for a student. Early in her career, Susan once was asked for a hall pass by an assistant principal and she was used as a narc by an administrator who sent her into the girls’ bathroom to see if she could catch students smoking.
Several years ago, because of Susan’s youthful appearance, she was selected to play the part of a cheerleader in a skit at a pep rally in which teachers took on the roles of students for the sake of humor. I don’t know whether the skit actually turned out to be funny for the reasons its author intended it to be funny, but, prior to the skit, Susan brought home an East Coweta High School cheerleading uniform and tried it on to make sure it would fit for the next day’s pep rally. I arrived home from work that afternoon and found my wife dressed like a cheerleader.
Suffice it to say, therefore, that I have no quarrel with cheerleaders. None whatsoever.
That said, I cannot fault Florida International’s decision to cut its cheerleading squad for budgetary reasons.
If we must have cheerleaders, they need to fall into one of two categories: University of Georgia alumni from the ‘50s who show up at homecoming and actually lead cheers or Eliza Dushku from "Bring It On."
I don’t know about you, but, when I go to a sporting event, I’m there for a sporting event. I neither want nor need beach balls bounding around in the stands or people doing "the wave" or cheerleaders. We need the band; Brian Cook and I disagree on many, many subjects, but, although I find his blanket denunciation of all piped-in rock music to be crotchety in a way one typically associates with grumpy men of a much earlier generation than Brian’s, he is right about the need for live musicians who contribute to the flow of the game with appropriately-selected and –timed musical numbers. Erk Russell’s "Junkyard Dogs" moniker became (and remains) a hit with fans because the director of the Redcoat Band agreed to play a few bars of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" whenever the defense made a big play. (I could, however, do without the Bon Jovi medleys, the Earth, Wind & Fire retrospectives, and the Andrew Lloyd Webber tributes at halftime. Marching bands generally should stick to marching band music.)
At the end of the day, though, I agree with Lewis Grizzard that cheerleaders are the parsley of athletic competition. I’m not advocating doing away with the cheerleading squad---it’s a frivolous expenditure, to be sure, but no real needs are being left unmet because of what we spend on having cheerleaders on the sidelines---but neither will I fault a school for doing away with this ephemeral excrescence in times of financial crisis.
It’s one thing if you’re braving actual danger by catching a flaming baton as it spins end over end; I’ll even give the dance team credit for providing eye candy to the alumni while taking a terpsichorean turn. What sort of fan would I be, though, if I felt the need to have another human being lead me in cheering for my team?
Prefabricated enthusiasm is like an arranged marriage; in each case, the modifier robs the noun of all consequential meaning. I’ve never been told to "stand up and hollar!" at a moment when I was not already standing up and hollaring. I have been known to applaud so energetically at football games that I have torn the flesh of my opposing hand with my class ring and spent the second half bleeding. (Erk, I believe, would have been proud.)
In fact, I take it as a personal affront when the Coca-Cola fan of the game is announced in the third quarter. Dude, I bring it in the fourth quarter. Come watch me for a full 60 minutes before you start handing out free Red Baron pizzas to some yahoo in the upper deck who happened to grab a red shirt out of the closet when he rolled out of bed on Saturday morning.
One of the greatest compliments ever paid to me as a fan came long before I ever entered the blogosphere (or before there even was a blogosphere). I was in Jacksonville for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and a Georgia fan I did not know came up to me. He asked me, "Do you sit . . . ?" and proceeded to name the section in which and row on which my season tickets are located.
Shocked, I replied, "Yes." He said: "I sit ten rows behind you. You’re a good fan."
So let’s cut F.I.U. a little slack here. Honestly, what are they sacrificing by getting rid of their cheerleading squad? Yes, they’re pretty girls, but I’ve never been to Sanford Stadium on a game day and noticed any shortage of lovely ladies. Maybe, by removing the crutch of designated directors of fan enthusiasm who inform the faithful when their shows of support are warranted, Florida International will produce a better class of booster. Perhaps the F.I.U. fan base will become a bunch of self-starters who spontaneously show up, stand up, and shout out for their team.
I am no advocate of abolishing cheerleading squads, but I fail to see the harm in compelling the fans in the stands to accept responsibility for creating on their own the inimitably organic energy that makes sports so special.