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When Cheerleader Moms Attack

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For these mothers, their daughter's spot on the cheerleading team was something worth fighting for. (Literally.)

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Michelle Rains, 39, an Atlanta mom of three, is facing charges after attacking another woman at her daughter's cheerleading camp. She was charged with simple battery, and says the argument started when she wanted her nine-year-old daughter placed on a different squad than the one assigned, but the president of the cheerleading clinic refused.

Rains denies hitting Nancy Cunningham, president of the Sharon Springs Cheerleading Association. "I did not punch her," she told FOX 5 Atlanta. "I did take my three fingers and put them underneath her chin and push her head back....I think it escalated to a point where it shouldn't have."

Julie Ann Bell, 39, an Oklahoma mom was arrested for conspiring to injure high school cheerleading coach Bethany Lorenz, for allegedly picking on her daughter. Bell was charged with conspiracy assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

In the infamous "Texas Cheerleader Murder" scandal that spawned several made-for-TV movies, Wanda Holloway, a Texas mother who tried to mold her daughter into a perfect cheerleader, became furious when she discovered her neighbor Verna Heath's daughter Amber was a cheerleading pro. So she plotted to kill both Verna and her daughter, but was arrested before she could execute her plan.

And who could forget the seven Florida cheerleaders who brutally attacked a fellow classmate for comments posted on her MySpace page?

But are these crimes isolated incidences, or does cheerleading itself breed violence?

"Cheerleading is unique because unlike other sports where kids are required to be fast, fit, and ferocious, in addition, the girls are also expected to be perky, cute, and thin--not unlike a beauty pageant," says Jane Greer, Ph.D., a New York-based family therapist.

And it makes sense--just consider popular culture. From flicks like Bring it On, American Beauty, and Love Don't Cost a Thing, the in-crowd are usually cast as cheerleaders. So it seems inevitable that making the squad is not just a measure of one's talent, it's also indicative of a girl's social status and self-worth.

To add even more pressure, cheerleading is more competitive than ever. Long gone are the days of simple round-offs and one-handed cartwheels. These days, cheerleaders are expected to perform complicated kicks, spins, tumbles, jumps, flips, bouncy pyramids, and otherwise keep their bodies in tip-top shape--similar to a professional gymnast. And these advanced routines can be harmful. In fact, a recent study conducted by the University of Southern California says cheerleading is more dangerous than any other sport, accounting for 65 percent of all catastrophic injuries in high school girls' athletics and 67 percent in colleges.

But how do violent mothers fit in the picture? "Aggressive or 'mean moms' are not unlike typical stage parents who push their kid into show business," says Greer. "That doesn't mean they pressure their kids to cheer, but if the mother had an unhappy childhood or wasn't popular in high school, she may want her daughter to experience what happiness she didn't."

"These moms feel pressure for their daughters to perform and the teen rivalry by extention of their kids and become overprotective," she adds. "Except these moms take it to the extreme, which only compounds any pressure girls feel and can ultimately make their daughters more aggressive and competitive, not unlike a bully."

"That said, not every mother of a cheerleader has the potential to become out of control," she says. "If your daughter wants to cheer, a parent should encourage that, as long as the elements of competition are kept in check."

"The key is to make sure girls are well-rounded in their interests. Do they love cheering? Well, that's great. Do they have other interests and a healthy self-esteem? Let's hope so," she says.

"The bottom line is, like any other hobby, kids shouldn't feel like they only have one claim to fame," says Greer. "Both mother and daughter should always keep it perspective--at the end of the day, it's only a sport."


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11 comments so far | Post a comment now
Gilly August 25, 2008, 9:46 AM

I was a cheerleader for three years in high school. We were a small small school and the teachers didn’t put up with any misbehavior. If you wanted to stay on the squad you kept your grades up, you kept your attitude in check, you did community work and you made an effort to be a nice person. It was a good experience but I have a feeling it was not a common cheerleading experience!

JustMe August 25, 2008, 11:16 AM

Those mothers are crazy!

omgimacheermom August 26, 2008, 8:30 PM

My daughter desperately wanted to try out for cheering last year, at 8 & made the squad…this is her second year, and I am still overwhelmed. She loves the sport and it’s a lot of work. I am happy to report that most of the mom’s are normal, but there are a few crazies, and those are always the ones who make the news!

WTFinMN August 26, 2008, 8:47 PM

OMG people are STUPID!!! U gotta be kidding me that they act that pitiful over cheerleading? God forbid if they were faced with some real life crisis,,wow ladies grow up and even more so SHUT UP. Man im glad I have 4 sons is all i know, no drama.

Jayme August 26, 2008, 8:53 PM

OK, So my daughter was a cheerleader from the age of 6 her elementary teacher always told me if she knew her work like she knew how to cheer she would be very smart, needless to say I took her out of cheer leading.We decided to let her try again when she was going into the 7th grade and she was in cheer leading till she was a Sr. we really never had any trouble with our moms, but everyone was very jealous of our squad,other than that my daughters were in modeling and pageants and that is where I came across more problems than anywhere.

Alizabeth August 27, 2008, 6:33 AM

I think this is just awful. My daughter has been cheering since elementary and this year as a Freshman she made Varsity and Competition Squad. There are TOO many parents that want a say in everything. PARENTS let the coach do her job and MOST of ALL let your child enjoy what she loves to do, which is CHEER! Now if you see the coach mistreating your child then by all means say something. If your child has come to you after practice and said that someone one say something or did something to her then please go and SPEAK to the coach. NOW if your just mad because Susie Q was picked over your daughter and everyone should now your daughter is a whole lot better when then here is my advice to you GROW UP.

PurplePassion September 2, 2008, 9:17 PM

Don’t we do enough to batter our daughters’ self-esteem these days without beating up on their peers’ mothers?! Seriously, where does all this crap end…Raising girls to be healthy, well-rounded, confident women is difficult. I don’t disagree that cheerleading has become a very competitive sport. I do, however, believe we’ve taken all the fun out of it. It’s terrible that these moms can’t just appreciate their daughters abilities without trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” The bottom line-be proud of your girls, no matter if their passion is cheerleading, dancing, music or math. Quit being such babies and teach them to deal with loss or defeat without violence. Because it doesn’t matter how good your daughter is, there’s someone out there who’s better at cheerleading (or whatever).

Whatever September 3, 2008, 11:49 PM

ok… I’m a teenager and… this is really dumb. why should anyone care, or pity cheerleaders? Really. I used to want to be a chheleader more than anything, but I got over it. Plus, the way guys talk about those girls shocks me. And cheerleading doesn’t really help in the future. And all they do is cheer for the things OTHER people do. God forbid they do somthing useful…

Denise February 10, 2009, 11:58 PM

I am a cheer mom of an 11 year old allstar cheerleader. We have been at this for five years now. All has been fine over the years…apart from some drama that probably goes on most places anyway…this year is unbearable. there are a group of moms on my daughters team who make it absolutely miserable to be there. The cheerleaders are all great together and for the most part get along great. In my own opinion, they act more like adults than the moms. This year in particular, one jealous mom who deperately wants her daughter to be a flyer actually went as low as calling Child Protection Services and report another mom of a flyer which was totally unwarranted. It has caused alot of grieve in our gym. Thats only one example of the BS going on…We are at wits end because we adore the coaches and really wish everyone could just realize it is just a team sport and we are a big family. Its gotten so bad now that we are planning to change teams next year. We have had parent and coaches meetings….all the parents signed parent contracts in the beginning of the season and when I asked one of the coaches why it was not enforced I was told that “we are in the gym coaching and cant see what goes on in the parent room. I said well why have a parent contract if your not going to enforce it. I dont know anymore. I just wish I could do something to bring us all together the way it should be….any suggestions other than beating feet to another team next season…lol…thanks!!! A New York team mom

Writing a paper on cheerleading February 25, 2009, 11:08 PM

omgimacheermom’s grammar has perfectly illustrated the vacuous effect cheerleading has on intelligence. Thanks a bunch!

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