Boys breaking barriers
All people face a stereotype. Athletes are no exception. Some athletes face stereotypes regarding intelligence. Other athletes struggle with their race defining what sport they play.
Still for others, the stereotype of an athlete is gender-based.
Justin Hayden and Dustin Gray are two senior liftmen on the LPHS cheer team. The cheer team, comprised mainly of female athletes, benefits greatly from the strength the two male cheerleaders offer.
“They offer strength. With their strength, we’re able to do a lot more difficult performances in skill level. The males tend to be more of a backspot. They help secure the stunt, help the girls out when they do inverted stunts,” Christine Lidgard, LPHS cheer coach, said.
But while the boys offer new levels of skill to the sport, they are not safe from the stereotypes of being a male athlete on a predominantly female team.
“Most people think that liftmen would be gay; there are certain stereotypes about it, but there are also people that come up and give you props for doing something you normally wouldn’t do,” Gray said.
The challenges of being liftmen are not limited to facing stereotypes. As two of only three male cheerleaders at LPHS, the seniors face other obstacles.
“I joined an all star team two years ago and switched to the LP cheer team this year. [I deal with] not being taken seriously or being valued as a fellow teammate,” Hayden said.
Gray expressed his struggles as a minority in the group.
“Women have more control over what happens in the sport, and it’s kind of harder for me to get my opinion inside it,” Gray said.
Cheerleading is not the only sport with a typically female populus. Color guard and winter guard, two forms of expression that combine dance with art, tend to see shining female athletes. Jack Boardman, however, is one of the few males in the LPHS Winter Guard, and he shines as brightly as his female counterparts.
“I started in Marching Band, and some friends in the Color Guard told me to tryout for the winter guard,” Boardman said.
Boardman and other male guard participants are just as uniquely talented as any other performer, they, too, struggle with biased expectations and ridicule.
“When I tell people I’m in Winter Guard, it usually confuses people. People also tend to make a lot of assumptions about me because of my involvement in the sport,” Boardman said.
Boardman, Gray, and Hayden all excel in their sports, in spite of the adversity they face as males in predominantly female sports. As the few among the many, the three young men have acquired skills unique to them, developed by their sport.
“I’ve learned how to deal with people I don’t always get along with, everyday life skills people don’t have, like not blowing up when you have a problem,” Gray said.
The skills and talents that the boys have found within the stereotypically “girl” sports makes up for the struggle of facing such stereotypes.
“The memorization of all the motions and combinations has helped me mentally, and I’m overall more graceful and aware of my body because of it,” Boardman said.
Ultimately, Gray, Boardman, and Hayden have all learned one of the most invaluable lessons of all: doing what they love, in spite of barriers and struggles.
“Don’t worry about what everybody else thinks. It doesn’t matter what other people think. Just be you,” Gray said.
The three encourage others to join sports not usually played by the boys.
“A man founded the sport that we call cheer today. You are going to face challenges and you are going to become frustrated, but that comes with any sport. As long as you love what you do, then that’s all that matters,” Hayden said.
Though all athletes face stereotypes, the boys in predominantly girl sports face more than others. Their drive, dedication, and skills, however, set them apart from other athletes and make them invaluable members to their respective teams.
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