June 5, 2017
By Judy McSpadden
Let’s play “Guess this Sport.”
Until you read No. 5, you probably thought the answer was football, but football hasn’t yet been recognized by the IOC as a sport. Boxing is an Olympic sport with a high rate of injuries, but it doesn’t involve teamwork.
Are you ready for the answer? Cheerleading. That’s right, an activity that many don’t even acknowledge as a sport has continued to evolve since young men in the early 1900s joined yell squads to cheer on their college sports teams.
Women, who started cheerleading in the 1920s, began to dominate the sport during World War II, when men went off to fight. Today, according to Sport.com, there are 3.4 million registered cheerleaders in the United States. Of those, a recent survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations reports that 400,000 people are cheerleading in American high school programs.
Over the last year, Our Military Kids has awarded over 128 grants for cheerleading, a combination of gymnastics (for which OMK gave 478 grants) and dance (for which OMK gave 381 grants).
Two OMK cheerleading grant recipients, Zoey and Raegan Lawson, just recently competed at the 2017 Summit, a varsity all-star cheerleading and dance championship in Orlando, Florida.
Eleven-year-old Raegan’s team placed tenth out of 80 at Disney. That’s not bad, considering her team ran against 780 teams to get to Disney in the first place.
Zoey, age 12, competed with a dance team. Her team placed twelfth in hip hop and fifth in POM dancing.
Raegan and Zoey received OMK grants after their dad, Army Staff Sgt. Doug Lawson, was injured in a roadside explosion in Iraq in 2008. Joining the Army immediately after high school, Doug had served more than 15 years when he was medically retired. His wife, Jessica Lawson, said the OMK grants were invaluable to helping the girls continue to do what they loved.
Doug still deals with complications from a TBI, but, according to Jessica, cheerleading has opened doors to supportive friendships with other families.
“Gym friends are my best friends,” said Jessica. “We travel together; we spend holidays together. The guys hang out outside of cheer.”
Jessica said Doug’s good sense of humor has helped him deal with his challenges and enjoy life with his three daughters (Their eldest is 18.). “He knows that when you have daughters, at times you’re going to go to work with glitter on your face,” she said. “He once made a bet with the girls and lost, so he had to wear a tutu to a competition.”
Jessica said the difficult part of the cheer sport is the expense. With Doug unable to work, and Jessica working as a nurse, “a big part of what we go through has been financial. Without grants like OMK’s, our girls would not be able to participate,” she said.
Jessica said the key to keeping life as stable as possible is to just appreciate every day and to make sure the girls have activities.