The Truth Behind Cheerball

What are the underlying issues in the Stuyvesant Cheerball tradition?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

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By Ava Quarles

Once a year in late October, the Stuyvesant hallways are graced with the sight of varsity football players in crop tops and cheerleaders in knee-length jerseys, a humorous facet of the annual Cheerball. Cheerball is a tradition in which the cheerleading and football teams collaborate to celebrate spirit week and the Homecoming football game. The system’s enigmatic layers have existed under the guise of tradition for decades, never thoroughly examined—until now.

Led by the respective team captains, Stuyvesant football players pair up with cheerleaders of the opposite gender for a week of activities leading up to the Friday Homecoming game. These include spirit week dress-up days such as twin day, white lies, rhyme without reason, and the aforementioned uniform/jersey swap. Cheerleaders either bake for their partners or give them gifts, while football players buy them flowers and presents—exchanges that have been recently criticized for reinforcing traditional gender roles and heteronormativity. Then, on the day of the Homecoming game, cheerleaders bring decorated posters for their respective players. 

At first glance, these events appear to be a lighthearted celebration of athletic unity and school spirit; a closer look reveals an unsettling depth to Cheerball, concealed beneath the surface of wholesome activities.

The affair begins with an elaborate partner selection process. Players are not required to participate, but those who choose to do so join a private Facebook group with both squads. One by one, each member posts an introduction including their team position, grade, fun facts about himself or herself, and what they are looking for in a Cheerball partner, as well as pictures and videos of themselves. “[The selection process] definitely invites people to criticize other people’s appearances,” anonymous senior cheerleader A noted. The posted content ranges from goofy selfies and videos to posed mirror pictures.

These posts bear resemblance to an online dating profile, but also often include backhanded or suggestive jokes, especially from the football players—cheerleaders’ comments are typically more reserved. It is tradition for players from both teams to make fun of their teammates with sexual allusions and distorted allegations. Whether these types of comments are true or enhance a participant’s desirability as a partner is unclear. 

In the past few years, the creation of pairs has become a heated process. Based on these introductory posts, cheerleaders and football players rank their top three spirit week partner choices in a Google form. Most participants communicate with their desired partner before the form is due to solidify their partnerships, while others “claim” certain partners, calling “dibs” and alerting their captains to demand that they are matched accordingly. Whether it is for their appearances, personalities, or skills, there are often a select few football players who are the most “wanted” by the cheerleaders, creating a competitive environment on the team. “This year it was really intense—there was a junior threatening the team, saying she really wanted a senior guy on football,” anonymous cheerleader B said.

Tensions escalate between the teams through blatant appearance-based discrimination that emerges on both sides. “One sophomore has repeatedly said that he feels the cheerleaders are not ‘up to par’ this year,” anonymous senior football captain C revealed.

Other football players confirmed this bias. “Football players are selecting based off of the cheer team’s attractiveness,” anonymous senior football player E said. But similarly, “there are sometimes limited options on who we want to be partners with,” anonymous senior cheerleader B remarked. Selections are often made “based on looks,” a process catalyzed by the introduction posts. The comments on these posts, at times referring directly to the physical appearance of the cheerleaders, can feed into the misogyny that is already present in the proceedings.

Beyond appearance-based preference, the cheer team cites other reasons for avoiding specific partners. “Certain football players make the cheerleaders extremely uncomfortable,” anonymous senior cheerleader D mentioned. “The rule is: if you don’t know anything about someone on football, it’s a good thing,” cheerleader B clarified.

In fact, the cheer team’s caution has been realized in a series of disclaimers regarding football players who have been prohibited from participation in Cheerball, banned based on the cheer captains’ judgments of their actions. “A football player was blacklisted this year because of some stuff he posted on his story. It was some really misogynist stuff I wasn’t a fan of,” said cheerleader B.

The football team is aware of this and has tried to prohibit specific cheerleaders from participating in response. “I know for a fact cheer is deliberately excluding people. The captains, or other senior members, will have an opinion on a certain football player and ‘advise’ the cheer team to stay away from selecting that player to partner with. I put ‘advise’ in quotations, because it seems more like intimidation,” said football player E, who is not participating in Cheerball this year. However, football has been unsuccessful in convincing cheer captains to act in their interest in this way.

After the forms are submitted, the captains consider the responses and create pairings based on preference, predicted compatibility, and seniority. Once assignments are posted, partners are expected to reach out to each other to begin preparations for the week—pairs often order matching outfits for twin day or coordinate for other days. 

Certain Cheerball events with romantic connotations have become increasingly fraught with tension. TikTok Day, in which pairs made social media videos together, has been discontinued. “[TikTok Day] led to very coupley videos, which were very strange given the circumstances,” cheerleader A explained. 

This romanticization of Cheerball partnerships has even caused a few players to opt out of the event altogether. “When players/cheerleaders have to check with their significant others before participating in the process, it says something,” football player E observed. 

This pressure to partake in romantic activities can make partnership dynamics especially uncomfortable between students in different grades. “In my sophomore year, I paired with a senior, and I got a little too close to my partner. That was a mistake,” cheerleader B revealed.

Nuance can be seen in this year’s Cheerball with the addition of All-Access players to the varsity football team. The PSAL’s new All-Access program allows students to join another school’s team to play a sport not offered by their own school. The football and cheer captains decided against these non-Stuyvesant athletes’ participation in spirit week activities for the sake of convenience. However, the presence of All-Access players has decreased the number of Stuyvesant players on the varsity roster, necessitating that junior varsity football players participate in Cheerball for the first time this year. Thus, there are now sophomores from both cheer and football participating.

In the past, female football team managers also participated in spirit week and partnered with football players. However, since the ratio of football players to cheerleaders was already low, it was impractical this year. “There weren’t enough football players even with JV, so we tried to stress that managers would get [the] least priority. However, one player was upset because he wanted to partner with a manager,” cheerleader B said. Such cheer-football disagreements are prevalent during spirit week, and the power struggle between the captains of each team dates back several years. This year, the cheer captains were tasked with the responsibility of communicating with the football captains.

Another new aspect to Cheerball this year is a ban on the uniform swap. When pairs swapped uniforms in 2022, three cheer uniforms were ripped, costing the school hundreds of dollars in replacements. This year, the Parents’ Association is funding the costly cheer uniforms, so it wanted to prevent any damage to school property by banning the swap. This change is no small loss, as the uniform swap was a highlight for many. Football player C described how this shift altered the football team’s general attitude toward the week: “We’re disappointed that we can’t swap uniforms with cheer this year, and the overall attitude towards Cheerball this year has been mixed.” However, the ban on the uniform swap could rectify the activity’s lack of gender-inclusivity.

In the past, Cheerball has been able to strengthen pre-existing friendships between cheerleaders and football players. “We had a lot of fun, a lot of camaraderie; I was pretty close to a lot of the guys on the [football] team so it was just a chance to hang out and and do something fun,” former Stuyvesant cheerleader Rachael Ann Biscocho (‘12) said. 

Biscocho emphasized that both teams’ approach to Cheerball can make or break  the tradition’s outcome. “I think it has to do with communication and getting to know each other outside of just spirit week, like making more of an effort to go to the football games. Something that I didn’t do at Stuy but I wish that we did was bring the guys to cheer practice and teach them some cheers, do some tumbling—that would be a really good way to put ourselves in each other's shoes,” she said. 

Anonymous cheerleader F shared her insights on the factors that influence Cheerball: “The way the captains frame cheerball has a big impact on the way it goes […] A big part of it is being friends outside of the sport; it takes a lot of planning,” she explained. Overall though, cheerleader F enjoys a positive experience of Cheerball. “[I especially like] taking cute pictures,” she said.  

Above all, respect is the key to establishing amicable relations between the two teams. “We had a very high level of respect for each other, because being a student athlete at Stuyvesant is really hard—you all know we’re taking very difficult classes, commuting from very far away, but we still make time to go to practice and be there for our teammates,” Biscocho said.

A tradition that began as a fun way to encourage school spirit, Cheerball has grown into a competitive, divisive demonstration. Because Stuyvesant is largely an academically-focused school, there’s a dissociation with the traditional school spirit that stems from athletics. Sports teams rarely get the spotlight, so it is easy to lose track of the persistent issues related to inter-team dynamics. It is our sincere hope that the cheer and football teams can reconcile their differences and bring back the original values of this storied tradition. They should strive to restore Cheerball to the joyful event that it once was, along with the once-friendly team relations that could become the truest representation of Stuyvesant school spirit.