Cheer! Three Teams on a Quest for Cheerleading?s Ultimate Prize

Maybe you dated a cheerleader. Maybe, more to the point, your crush dated a cheerleader. Maybe you?ve seen Bring It On — or, oh, any high school movie, ever. No matter what, you are surely well aware that — whether we look down at her with derision or vault her to the top of the social pyramid — the cheerleader occupies an iconic place in the American imagination. But unless you watch a lot of ESPN2, you may not be aware of the spot that cheerleading, especially college cheerleading, now occupies in American athletics. Author Kate Torgovnick aims to change that with Cheer! Three Teams on a Quest for Cheerleading?s Ultimate Prize. “These are not just pretty women shaking pom-poms,” Torgovnick writes, and the “ultimate prize” these athletes seek is not popularity. It?s the college nationals, and the team to beat is the Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjacks. By telling their story — and that of two competitors, the Southern University Jaguars and the University of Memphis All-Girl Tigers — Torgovnick upends stereotype, elucidates history and fact, and schools us all: gymnastic, acrobatic, competitive cheerleading is clearly a sport, and (speaking of upending stereotype) there are plenty of massive, muscular cheerleading men who won?t let you forget it. Sure, there?s also some juice — bulimia, drugs, and juice juice, as in steroids — but Cheer! is Friday Night Lights, not shocking tell-all. Torgovnick bobbles when she inserts herself, jarringly, into the action, and at least passing interest or strong curiosity is a prerequisite for her highly detailed play-by-play. But otherwise: Rah-RAH!