Murray challenges cheerleading gender norms


Grace Amgalan

Khylen Murray (12) celebrates the last football game on Oct. 27, 2022. Murray and Alyssa Winston (12) were the only seniors on the 2022-23 football cheer team.

Pom-poms, mini skirts and hair bows often represent the epitome of a cheerleader. However, Khylen Murray (12) disbands what most people view as a stereotypical cheerleader as the only male on the Spartan football and basketball cheer teams. In 2019, Murray unintentionally began cheering but has since become a leader on both teams. 

“I started cheering my freshman year, and essentially, I actually didn’t try out to be on the cheer team; I actually tried out to be the mascot,” Murray said.

Although Murray was not chosen as the mascot, he was invited to join the football cheer team. Murray improved his skills and stunts through weekly cheer practices and clinics, and he eventually joined the basketball cheer team.

“This year, the team has been really involved with each other, and we’ve been like a family,” Murray said. “[Other cheerleaders] say it’s off when I’m not there. I have a pretty big impact on both teams, and I’m glad that I do.”

Not only does Murray bring a new level of excitement and energy to practices and performances, but having a male cheerleader also benefits the team on a technical aspect. 

“It is different when it comes to the divisions of cheer because we have to go based on co-ed,” Alyssa Winston (12) said. “With him being the only male, there are different stunts that we can try and add to the routine.”

As a senior and a leader on both teams, many cheerleaders look up to Murray as he calls out cheers, and many Spartans recognize his enthusiasm. However, since male cheerleaders are not particularly prevalent in high school teams, Murray has faced negativity and has been subject to stereotypes. One of the prominent assumptions associated with male cheerleaders is that they are often feminine.

“I’ve received a welcoming aspect from me cheering from a lot of people especially here at our school, but when we go to different teams or events, there will be other males who see me and be like … ‘He’s so lucky to be around the females,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s just a sport, nobody really cares,’” Murray said.

Although impaired by this monolith, Murray has learned to ignore comments and stereotypes.

“When I was younger, it hit me more because I was new to this and didn’t know what to expect,” Murray said. “But as I got older, [I’ve learned] to just tune things out because at the end of the day, [they] can’t do half the things that I do and have half the energy and have half of the positive impact that I’ve brought to this school and these teams.” 

Typically, the team practices about three times a week for months to perfect a two-minute and 15-second routine. As flyers are thrown in the air and bases and back spots form a solid foundation, extreme strength and athleticism are required for cheerleading.

“Many people don’t realize how difficult [cheer] is, and it’s a lot harder than you expect as far as the stunting and positioning,” Winston said. “It takes a lot [more] technique and a bond than some other sports.”

Murray’s coaches and teammates appreciate the energy and dedication he has for cheer. 

“People assume there are alternate reasons for wanting to be a cheerleader,” football cheer coach Kelci Pearce said. “For [Khylen], he is the prime example of none of those things. He is just so passionate about [cheer], and he loves it.”

Murray has become the first male to compete in a national cheer competition for White Station, and the only male to cheer on both teams in the same year. On Feb. 11, the White Station competitive cheer team attended the National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando, Fla. The team placed 16 out of 21 teams from across the country. 

“This was the first year everything aligned, we could afford it and we qualified,” Pearce said. “It was an eye-opening experience for a lot of them.”

While male cheerleaders have slowly become more accepted and praised, it is still a laborious task. Murray takes each opportunity to encourage more young men to join the cheer team or simply resist conventional standards. 

“A lot of the males, who are like how I started off, not really sure of who they are … said that seeing me cheer made them want to cheer,” Murray said. “Don’t be afraid to be who you are. If you feel like something is uncommon or irregular, do it because it takes someone to do that uncommon thing to make it a common thing.”