Growing up in Texas, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a cheerleader. After all, as the nation knows, Texas’ “Friday night lights” culture is strong. And being part of that culture is in every good Texan’s blood.

As a teen, I bled my school’s colors, cheering on my beloved Rattlers each week during the fall.

But it wasn’t just football and basketball games that filled my time. My time (and the rest of my squad’s time) was filled with cheer practice, strength training, stunt practice, or tumbling at the gym — six out of seven days each week. It wasn’t because we wanted to look super awesome on the sidelines of the game; it was because we, like many other cheerleaders, were gearing up for competition.

Yes, competition.

Like, the thing “athletes” do. And based on the definition of an athlete, cheerleaders are about as athletic as they come.

Merriam Webster’s definition of an athlete is, “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” But yet, the fact that cheerleaders can tumble on the floor at the level of an Olympiad, hoist a girl into the air with grace and ease, jump as high and with as much flexibility as a rhythmic gymnast, and dance with as sweet of moves as a renowned hip-hop group continues to be lost upon so many.

Nevermind that all of the above check the proverbial boxes of “athlete” requirements.

I know this not just because I lived it (I’m over that), but because my 7-year-old daughter now cheers competitively. And my 11-year-old son constantly tells her that “cheerleading is NOT a sport.” (By the way, the definition of “sport” is “physical activity (as running or an athletic game) engaged in for pleasure or exercise.” Pretty sure cheerleading checks those boxes, too.)

Sure, it grinds my gears to hear him say this. But he only says it because that’s the resounding sentiment from not only his friends but from many in our community, as well as the media.

You see, even though cheerleading has evolved from bobby socks and yelling, “rah-rah-sis-boom-bah,” somehow the only ones who have noticed this evolution are those who have witnessed the intense training and performance of today’s cheerleaders.

Today’s cheerleader is not the stereotypical blonde-haired, not-so-bright, girl-in-a-short-skirt who stands around at a football game jumping around without much purpose other than to say, “go team!”

Cheerleading isn’t an activity that permits only the girl with the most friends who twirls her hair around her finger as she walks through the school with her quarterback boyfriend (did that actually ever happen?) to be a part of it.

And no longer is cheerleading an activity that has a sole purpose of cheering for the boys on the sidelines.

Cheerleading is a sport. One that requires extreme physical strength and coordination.

Being a cheerleader doesn’t just mean you cheer for the boys on the sidelines; it means you are an athlete. I was an athlete. My daughter is an athlete. Cheerleaders are athletes.

Jacquelyn Eckmann
Jacquelyn (Jakki) is a Texas native who made the Greater Boston area her home several years ago. Jakki is the founder of Social Betty, a social media management and consulting agency, and runs the company with her husband, Chris. She loves the flexibility that being self-employed gives her, and truly appreciates that she is able to attend mid-day school events for her children, Caleb (11), and Kennedy (6). A lover of the written word, music, and makeup, Jakki enjoys a good book, concerts at small venues, and discount shopping. Though life is busy for her family (overcommitting to extracurricular activities regularly), Jakki and her husband make it a point to get to the city and enjoy a ride on the T, a craft beer, and dinner at Legal Harborside or Boston Burger Co.- both with the kids and without.