"I really don't think that cheering at games is considered a sport to people. It's more about competition at things like (the WCC) where the athleticism comes in," said IVC cheerleader Brittany Hicks, 18, of Imperial. "When you're competing out there, I do believe that that's a sport."
Like other sports, cheerleading has its potential for injury. A report on ESPN's Sportscenter named cheerleading as one of the most dangerous sports.
Hicks said when she was in high school she sustained a broken wrist during practice.
IVC cheerleader Rochel Harrington, 19, of El Centro said at her first cheerleading practice at IVC she was struck in the throat and chest with flailing elbows when attempting to catch an airborne teammate.
"When that happened I just started thinking twice about whether I wanted to be out there," said Harrington. "I had never gone out for cheerleading and when I got hit I was pretty sure I didn't want to do it. But some of the girls talked me into sticking with it."
While most cheerleaders will do everything they can to convince people that cheerleading is a sport, Harrington is one of the few who understands why people think it isn't.
Competing in athletics most of her life, Harrington took exception to cheerleaders who tried to sell what they did as a sport. It wasn't until she started participating that Harrington saw the light … sort of.
"I never saw myself as a cheerleader just because I was more into sports. And even though I'm involved in it, I still don't think of it as a sport," said Harrington. "If anything, I think it's a good workout. You have to be in really good shape to do it and you have to be able to work well as a team."
While the debate over cheerleading as a sport will be around for a long time, one stereotype — that cheerleaders are less than scholastically minded — is being disproven.
Like those participating in high school or college sports, cheerleaders must meet a minimum grade-point average of 2.0 to compete. At Southwest High School, a handful of cheerleaders are in the Gifted and Talented Education program.
"I know a lot of girls that are extremely smart and are actually a lot smarter and get way better grades than girls that think cheerleaders are air-headed," said Lindsay Horn, a sophomore cheerleader at Southwest. "They just think that because they're in cheerleading they're not smart or that they're dumb, but that's just one of those stereotypes that we're trying to disprove."
One of those cheerleaders Horn was referring to is Kim Slovak, who has been involved in cheerleading all four years at Southwest and is trying out for IVC's squad.
"You can't do this without having good grades. That's just part of being involved in it," said the 17-year-old Slovak, whose GPA is over 3.0. "People just assume that you're not smart just because you are a cheerleader, but they have no idea."
Of cheerleading as a sport, Slovak, who is on the Southwest tennis squad, said: "You know, people always talk about it not being a sport just because it's not like the other sports. But if they were to get out there and try it themselves, I'll bet they'd change their minds and say that it is a sport."