As the NRL season kicks off on International Women’s Day, a veteran dance coach says she will be focusing on the women doing what she sees an important yet often maligned role.
“They call me the Wayne Bennett of cheerleading!” Lyndal Johns laughs, but the 72-year-old, who now lives in Toowoomba, Queensland, takes her role very seriously.
As the first coach of the Paramatta Eels cheer squad in 1975, Ms Johns has taught generations of dancers the finer points of cheering on a team.
“I always say you look to cheerleaders, not at them. That’s a big difference,” she said.
“They have a job to do. They’re not just there for decoration.”
After Formula One abolished grid girls for this year’s races, Ms Johns wondered if there would be renewed calls to see the end of cheerleading.
South Sydney Rabbitohs stopped having cheerleaders in 2007, but the majority of NRL clubs still have official cheer squads, including all three Queensland teams.
“It’s not what you look at that counts, it’s what you see and I see the effort they have made to perform well and look good,” Ms Johns said.
She said cheering was a natural part of life, and cheerleaders — regardless of their gender or what they chose to wear — did an important job.
“If you try to banish cheerleading, then tell mum when she goes to a sports day ‘don’t get excited when your child runs past’,” she said.
“It’s a natural thing to cheer [but] try not to cheer along with the Barmy Army.
“I know they’re in different outfits, but you’ll never be able to replace a good cheerleader, and with what’s going on in the world, it’s a sad day if someone wants to stop cheering.”
Ms Johns said a good cheerleader must also be a sports fan.
“I’ve coached everything from basketball to football and soccer, and they have to have a comprehensive knowledge of the sport,” she said.
“The first thing I ask them is ‘do you like the sport?’ They’re not just there to be a pretty face and jump around.”
Ms Johns said cheerleaders had been unfairly targeted by some people when calling out sexism in modern sport.
“If the complaints are about skimpy outfits, let’s talk about beach volleyball,” she said.
“I absolutely love beach volleyball. Those women are fantastic, but look at what they are asked to play in — those outfits creep up their derriere!
“It’s not what you look at that counts,” said Lyndal Johns, “It’s what you see.” (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)
“On International Women’s Day, I wouldn’t want people to degrade cheerleaders.
“I’ve had a renowned scientist who was a cheerleader, I’ve had detectives and women from all walks of life.”
Ms Johns said the role of good cheerleader did not stop once a game had finished.
“For my girls, cheerleading is going to the hospital and visiting sick people; it’s about raising awareness for charities, getting up early and marching in support of breast cancer,” she said.
“I could go on and on. It’s about bringing attention to an event.”