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
.

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)