Science Cheerleader Darlene Cavalier Talks Science Literacy, Poker with Michael Jordan

Science Cheerleader Darlene Cavalier Talks Science Literacy, Poker with Michael Jordan

This is a guest post from Christopher Wink, a co-founder of
Technically Philly, an online news startup that covers technology and
innovation in Philadelphia and is nearly as much fun as cheerleaders.

I
wonder if Darlene Cavalier was as interested in science back in 1992
when Armon Gilliam got her into both post-fight parties after the
much-hyped Holyfield-Holmes bout in Las Vegas.

Because now, the
former 76ers cheerleader, with a Master's degree from the University of
Pennsylvania in science policy, is becoming a fairly vocal advocate for
a science literacy movement. Earlier this month, Science Cheerleader,
the year-old online home for that proposed movement, launched its Brain Makeover initiative, 18 videos highlighting fundamentals of the scientific world you should know.

The
40-year-old Society Hill beauty, who was also a member of Temple
University's cheer squad in the early 1990s, says that most adults
don't know even those basics.

Those 18 concepts were based on
research from George Mason University physics professor James Trefil,
but seeing a better way to bring in new viewers, the videos featured
curret buxom, pom-pom-toting Sixers dancers. That'll bring traffic.

Bridging the sports wonder of The700Level and the scientific curiosity
of Technically Philly, we spoke with Cavalier about the future of
Science Cheerleader, the risk of sexuality in education and her best
stories from three years as a professional cheerleader.

How did Science Cheerleader come about?

The
blog started out as a an idea to share and promote the ideas from a
book I was working on about engagement in science policy. It really
started with a piece I wrote for the Inquirer
about a science debate that wasn't, because voters didn't know it was
happening. The 'Science Cheerleader' title was the brainchild of a a Steve Grasse from Gyro Advertising. A year ago, I started the site to write
the book, and then started
getting paid speaking engagements. It was about all these ideas for
saying 'science is important,' and wanting to give people a way to
participate and learn and know what to learn and why they should learn
it. I'm really passionate about this, about science, and, after,
really, hiding my time as a cheerleader from my colleagues, I found
that I could be the science cheerleader.

OK, why not give us some good stories about being an NBA cheerleader. Please name drop, and feel free to wildly tie science
in there.

I played poker against Michael Jordan one evening. I lost.... I was friends with a close college [and] golf buddy of MJ's, and he invited me
to play poker with him, MJ, and MJ's dad -- who was there but didn't
play -- just the four of us. [I'm] happy to report that not one person even so
much as hinted that it was strip poker. No funny stuff, but
man that was fun.

On at least
one occasion following a game, Charles Barkley held open the hatchback
of my car so I could climb through because climbing through the back
was the only way to enter the wretched clunker. During
the starting line up at one game, the year I was captain, my lost
hairbrush flew out of my pompom right onto the center of the court. One of the
cheerleaders married an assistant coach [who was the] son of the head coach -- although
we were banned from dating players, the front office neglected to
include staff in that clause. Armon Gilliam helped my friend and I gain access to both Holyfield's and Holmes' post fight parties in Vegas. I never crossed any lines with the players -- people may be wondering.
However, my
future husband had season-tickets in the 2nd row so if a 700-level fan
wants to marry an Eagles cheerleader, invest in better seats. Our
dressing room was ridiculously small, kind of gross and thick with
hairspray fumes. I still keep in touch with Howard Eskin. Back then,
Bridget Foy's on South Street was where some of the players, staff and
cheerleaders hung out after home games.

I cheered
at the Vet [for the] football season [of the] Temple Owls, and I traveled all over with the
awesome Temple basketball team back in the days of Mark Macon.

With the
vantage point that I had on the court, I noticed that the players
seemed to know whether a foul shout was good or not before the fans did
-- a split second difference in cheers or jeers. Sometimes, they'd lean
in
to prepare to pat the shooter on the rear before the ball went in the
basket. Last year, I came across this interesting Scientific American post on why players might have an advantage over non players in
predicting the accuracy of basketball tosses. See, science is everywhere, even in the pinkies of NBA players.

So what is Brain Makeover?
It's just one way we want to
use to reach out and bring in new audiences. Using the Sixers
cheerleaders can attract attention and eyeballs, which is what we want,
but this will be just one thing we'll do to increase knowledge and
interest and interaction with science.

So the word is you reached an agreement with Hugh Douglas to shoot a video. How did that happen?

Another
former 76ers cheerleader now works at NFL Films, and is pretty bright
herself, and so I told her to keep her ears out for any possible
partnerships or any players who might be interested. She mentioned it
to Hugh Douglas who was really interested, and she gave me his cell
phone number and we started talking from there. 

In high school, us stat-heads and geeks took solace in thinking we
were smart. You keep showing hot science nuts -- former and current
cheerleaders, professors and now a science interested defensive end.
What gives?

I'd love to know who started the long-running rumor
that science, math and engineering are for geeks and that good-looking
people can't be taken seriously. Have you ever seen Philadelphia Inquirer's
talented science reporter, Faye Flam? Hot, hot, hot physics major from
California Institute of Technology. And wait until you see my interview
with Hugh Douglas. That guy knows science. The women, and forth-coming
men, featured on the Sexy Scientists and Engineers Flickr page on my
site are formally trained scientists and engineers. I am not a
scientist but does that mean I can't learn some important fundamentals,
become science literate, and participate in science activities and
science policy discussions? I'll answer that. Nope. And there are
millions of people like me in the U.S.

Does the sexuality devalue the learning?
The cheerleaders are just one part. It's rare that Fox national news and the Chronicle of Higher Education [and the Toronto Star] are going to run the same story at the same time. But, you know, they
did. It's because this is something people are struggling with and they
have for a long time. This is what works in America. We need to do
everything we can to bring people into this learning. It's getting
attraction from eyeballs that wouldn't
turn to a science Web site otherwise, and that's good, no matter what.
So we'll keep doing what works to educate people about science, its
policy and anything that it involves.

Christopher
Wink is a co-founder of Technically Philly, a news site that covers
technology and innovation in Philadelphia. Read more of the interview
here
.

Instant Replay: Warriors 119, Sixers 108

Instant Replay: Warriors 119, Sixers 108

BOX SCORE

Stephen Curry shot 0 for 11 from three and it didn't even shake the Warriors.

In spite of the star's long-range woes, the Warriors beat the Sixers, 119-108, on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers hung tight with the Western Conference powerhouse in the first half. They trailed by just one after the first quarter and three after the second following a 10-0 run. Klay Thompson led all players with 15 points in the first half while Gerald Henderson and Kevin Durant were right behind him with 12. Meanwhile, Curry went 2 for 11 (including 0 for 7 from long range and a pair of airballs) in his first 18 minutes.

The Warriors, though, opened the third with a 12-3 burst to take a 12-point lead. They scored 34 points in the quarter even as Curry's shooting woes continued (0 for 10 from three through three). Durant scored 22 points through three. The Sixers trailed by 13 heading into the fourth.

The Sixers fought until the buzzer, but were never able to overcome that third-quarter spurt. The Warriors won their 50th game of the season (50-9) while the Sixers dropped to 22-37.

Inside the box score
• Curry went scoreless from three for the third time this season and 37th game of his career. He shot 0 for 10 against the Lakers on Nov. 4 and 0 for 8 on Dec. 7 against the Clippers.

• Durant led all players with 27 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists.

• Draymond Green recorded a 14-point, 11-assist double-double along with six rebounds.

• Jahlil Okafor picked up his fifth foul with 9:44 to go in the third. As a result of his foul trouble, Richaun Holmes logged 28 minutes and scored 15 points with four rebounds. Okafor, meanwhile, committed seven turnovers, scored four points and grabbed three rebounds in 17 minutes.

• Dario Saric led the Sixers with 21 points and seven assists, while snatching seven rebounds.

• Robert Covington pulled down a team-high eight boards.

Saric bounces back
Saric hit the ground after being struck in the face by David West in the fourth. He walked off the court on his own and stayed in the game. West was issued a flagrant 1 on the play (see video).

Grab-and-go defense
What's the key to defending the Warriors? Grab whoever is open. Brett Brown didn't want the Sixers to get locked into one-on-one matchups when each player can be a threat.

"You have to accept switching," Brown said. "You have to accept that it's going to be a generic-type gym in relation to matchups don't matter a lot in our early offense. You just have to find Klay wherever he is and whoever it is. You've got to find Steph. You've got to find Kevin. Draymond is a runaway train when he rebounds and leads the break. It's really the instruction that you're not a prisoner to have to guard your original matchup. You're going to see a lot of people on a lot of different people."

Bogut era ends
As expected, the Sixers waived Andrew Bogut on Monday after acquiring him in the Nerlens Noel trade from the Mavericks (see story). Brown has known Bogut since the center was in high school thanks to their Australian connection. He would have liked to have coached Bogut but understands Bogut's interest to sign with a contender.

"I spoke with him at length. His goals aren't aligned with ours," Brown said. "He really feels, and I agree with him, he wants to go play on a playoff team at this stage in his career and make an impact from that sort of vision lens, more playoff-oriented than trying to build something. I respect his candidness. I would have liked to have had him."

Hart in the house
Watch Philadelphia native Kevin Hart ring the ceremonial bell before the game.

Up next
The Sixers travel to Miami to face the Heat on Wednesday. They snapped the Heat's 13-game winning streak in their last meeting. 

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

The timetable for Joel Embiid's return to the court keeps getting murkier.

Embiid was ruled out indefinitely on Monday and will now have an MRI on his injured left knee (see story). He initially suffered a bone bruise on Jan. 20 and it was revealed on Feb. 11 that he had a minor meniscal tear.

The Sixers previously had a plan of rest and rehab in place and targeted a March 4 return for the big man. 

"With respect to what's developed over the last couple of days, it's quite simple, Joel developed a little bit of swelling and soreness," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said during Monday's edition of Philly Sports Talk. "We're reacting in a way that's proactive. We wanted to be more communicative with our fans. We wanted to make sure that there's less question about whether or not he would be available. This is literally changing out for the next two games now to out indefinitely."

That's a quick change of events. As recently as Friday, Embiid was on track to be back in uniform this week.

"I was in a situation where the latest update on Friday was that he was doing well through his planned progression toward returning to play," Colangelo said. "In recent days, his training has developed a reaction with swelling and soreness, and thus we wanted to take a step back, put him on ice for a minute and make sure that we do everything possible, including getting another scan done."

Embiid initially suffered the injury against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20. The rookie sensation missed three games before coming back vs. the Houston Rockets in a national TV matchup on Jan. 27. He has missed all 13 games since facing the Rockets.

Even with Embiid’s diagnosed tear of his meniscus and recent flaring up of the knee after rehab sessions, the Sixers are being supremely cautious when it comes to any potential procedures. The team is not in a rush to put the center back under the knife after he missed the first two seasons of his career because of a pair of foot surgeries.

"With all due respect, medical injuries are injuries that require care and attention," Colangelo said. "When I take information that comes from the medical team, including doctors and the training staff and the physiotherapists, we apply it as instructed and we do that to protect the athlete. In a case of jumping into someone's knee to operate, when the circumstances are known but the conditions and how he's reacting to certain things are still unknown, I think you go through the planned progression of steps as prescribed and evaluated by doctors."

The quick decision to label Embiid out indefinitely is a sharp contrast to prior updates on the phenom. Just last week, Embiid lamented how the Sixers never announced a true timetable for his return (see story).

Now just days later, Embiid has a prognosis that could technically keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. 

Embiid has proven his worth in 31 games this season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes a night. But with only 23 games left on the schedule, will he suit up again this season?

"Out indefinitely means just that. It's indeterminate at this point," Colangelo said. "I think we're all hopeful to get him out there. It would be beneficial for the fans to see him again. It would be great for us as a unit to have him out there as we continue to strive toward winning as the season concludes.

"But at the end of the day, the health and performance of our athletes is first and foremost. We don't want to jeopardize the long-term health."