I can’t believe that I even typed that statement!  What is even more amazing is that I can’t believe that in this day and age we are STILL debating this very question!  Shame on society and their narrow views that still effect females today!

                There – I am now off my feminist soapbox.  Let’s now tackle the question, “Is Cheerleading REALLY a Sport?”  I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but let’s be objective for a few minutes and analyze this very topic.  There HAS to be facts to back that it is NOT a sport, right?  After all, if there aren’t, why are we still debating the topic even today?

                My first stop in my research (because you can get ANYTHING on the internet) was to get the DEFINITION of “Sport”.  What I found was the following:

                “SPORT:  noun.  1.  An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”cheer a sport4

Let’s EXAMINE this objectively.  “An activity involving physical exertion and skill” – has anyone tried to do a round-off-back-handspring that has never done one before?  How about toss – and catch – another person?  Better yet – how is your “toe-touch” jump?  Do you point your toes?  Do you get to the point of doing the splits in the air?  NO?  Well, then I would guess that cheerleading IS “an activity involving physical exertion and skill”.  “. . .In which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment” – we all as cheer parents go to COMPETITIONS, right?  These young ATHLETES are judged based on different criteria and the TEAM’S ability to perform said criteria, right?  Our young ATHLETES do this because “they love it” – to me that is ENTERTAINMENT.  So working the theory of using the “generally accepted definition” (I am assuming that Webster’s Dictionary is generally accepted as having accurate definitions of words in it by “the establishment”), we have “proven” that Cheerleading is IN FACT a sport as defined by Webster’s Dictionary.  So what is the problem?

                The courts are a part of the problem.  Ever the researcher (I love getting information and learning about things), I printed up the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit regarding Stephanie Biediger, Et. Al. vs Quinnipiac University (that’s right – the ACUTAL court ruling as typed by the judges and filed).  For those unfamiliar with this case, Quinnipiac University was trying to disband the women’s volleyball team.  This was challenged by a group of athletes that played volleyball as well as the coach, stating that it violated the Federal “Title IX” law (I will get into that in a bit).  The school’s argument was that they were NOT in violation of Title IX because they offered cheerleading as a varsity sport therefore they had enough sports offered to women to not be in violation of Title IX.  Well, the university lost the initial case, so they appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals (one step below the US Supreme Court). 

                Why is this important?  Well, because EVERY headline that covered this case stated “Federal Court of Appeals Rules that Cheerleading is NOT a Sport”.  But really, did it?  I read all 39 pages of the ruling, and I can tell you that they did NO SUCH THING.  What they ruled was that the university was trying to “appear in compliance with Title IX”, stating that “Quinnipiac systematically and artificially increased women’s teams’ rosters and decreased men’s teams’ rosters to achieve the appearance of Title IX compliance.”  What the university had done was ADD 11 roster spots to the Women’s Track and Field team AND CREATE a Women’s Competitive Cheerleading Team with 31 roster spots.  Because they were “creating” the team, and it had not, in fact, been a “varsity sport” to begin with when the volleyball team was disbanded, they couldn’t count that as a “varsity sport” for women to begin with. 

cheer a sport6                Stepping back for a moment, I am sure that many have HEARD of “Title IX” but don’t truly know what it is.  The wording of the law is “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  Nothing in there about sports, but the Department of Education has interpreted Title IX to mandate that programs receiving federal money operating or sponsoring “interscholastic, intercollegiate, club or intramural athletics” to “provide equal athletic opportunity for members of both sexes”.  They EVEN have a listing of “factors relevant to determining whether equal athletic opportunities are available”.  Yes – I am typing that list, and it is as follows:

                “(1)  Whether the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes; (2)  The provision of equipment and supplies; (3)  Scheduling of games and practice time; (4)  Travel and per diem allowance; (5)  Opportunity to receive coaching and academic tutoring; (6)  Assignment and compensation of coaches and tutors; (7)  Provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities; (8)  Provision of medical and training facilities and services; (9)  Provision of housing and dining facilities and services; (10)  Publicity.”

The issue in question for this case was NOT whether cheerleading was a sport or not; the question was “plaintiffs’ effective accommodation claim”.  The way that the Department of Education evaluates this is as follows:  (1) whether the levels of participation numbers are equal to the level of enrollment numbers for male vs. female students, (2) whether males or females are “underrepresented” in athletics, or (3) if there is one gender “underrepresented”, that this is due to the choices of the gender as a whole, and not due to the offerings of the athletic program itself.  Basically because Quinnipiac University HAD athletes as participants on the volleyball team and had NONE listed on the competitive cheerleading team, there could be NO cheerleading team, even if the team was planned for the same school year that the volleyball team was cut.  Can someone explain to me how this case became a case about cheerleading being considered a sport?  Because I read all 39 pages and nowhere in there does it make that statement at all!  This is what infuriates me about the press – they DECIDE what something is about instead of reading what it truly is about!  The ONLY statement in the entire 39 pages was made by the Plaintiffs in the case, siting that “women who participated on the competitive cheerleading team should not be counted at all because the activity had not yet achieved the status of an intercollegiate varsity sport.”

                The cold, hard truth in all this is that the plaintiffs are right in that.  Cheerleading has NOT been designated as a “varsity sport” in the intercollegiate world.  That is very sad to me.  The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has plenty of colleges – Division I schools and smaller – that have cheerleading squads.  The University of Kentucky is FAMOUS for their cheerleading squad, and is one of the top schools for cheer athletes to WANT to get to.  There is a national competition each year for collegiate athletes of cheer to compete in – the National Cheerleader Association hosts it in Florida for Collegiate teams each year.  But even with all of this, the NCAA does not recognize cheerleading as a varsity sport.  The Quinnipiac University case actually garnished the attention of the NCAA, prompting them to blog an article on their website titled, “Competitive Cheerleading Case Could Affect Title IX Landscape”. cheer a sport3

                “The court ruling is not saying that cheerleading can’t be a sport.  They’ve just made a determination about whether in the context of that specific case cheerleading was a sport,” stated Faith Shearer, chairwoman of the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics.  “If a school wants competitive cheerleading to be a sport on their campus, and they are willing to do what is outlined in the Office for Civil Rights’ definition of a sport, the road is still open for them to consider counting it as a sport on their campus.”  The article also states that the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics has had inquiries from the competitive cheer community about making competitive cheer a part of the “emerging-sports” list, but they state there hasn’t been enough interest for them to do so. 

                That last part surprises me.  There isn’t enough interest?  Do they not see that competitive cheer is one of the fastest-growing sports for youth today?  It is out-pacing such standard sports as youth football, softball and hockey.  Lacrosse is the fastest growing youth sport in the nation today, with competitive cheerleading being in the top 5.  There are literally THOUSANDS of young girls and boys all over this nation that compete in cheerleading.  Many teams travel all over the nation to compete against other teams.  Heck – there is a WORLD’S competition held each year broadcast on ESPN!  Just as every other organization, the NCAA does have a process for a sport to be recognized by the NCAA.  This process includes participation at all levels, the potential for NCAA structure and rules, opinions of the coaches association, interest from the conferences in the NCAA and support from the US Olympic Committee (if relevant).  They also expect interest from at least 20 programs and they are competing at the collegiate level.  They do this because they want the potential for the sport to grow and continue.  For the Committee on Women’s Athletics to consider it, a minimum of 10 university presidents and athletic directors must send letters of support. 

                With the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals, you would think that was the “end all” of the argument.  A part of the reason that the argument continues is that not even the legal system can agree if cheerleading is in fact a sport or not.  While the US Court of Appeals stated that cheerleading is not generally recognized as a sport and therefore can’t be considered one in the colleges, the state of Wisconsin had a case as well.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard an argument in January of 2009 about whether cheerleading is a sport in high school or not.

                The actual case was a former high school cheerleader trying to sue a teammate.  The teammate, argued the former cheerleader, failed to catch her when she was stunting, resulting in the cheerleader falling and becoming injured.  The court also ruled that the former cheerleader couldn’t sue the school district.  The National Cheer Safety Foundation said that this was a first of its kind in the entire nation.  The case was based on the Wisconsin law that prevents participants of contact sports from suing each other for injuries that are “unintentional”.  The ruling does NOT spell out which sports are considered “contact sports”, and before the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard the case, The District 4 Court of Appeals in Wisconsin ruled that cheerleading DOESN’T qualify because “there’s no contact between opposing teams”.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court did not agree, and all 7 of the justices unanimously overturned the decision.  In the opinion written, it was stated that cheerleading involves “a significant amount of physical contact between cheerleaders.”  The example cited was when bases toss flyers into the air.

 cheer a sport2               The incident that brought forth the lawsuit was from a cheerleader that was doing a stunt and fell backwards off the shoulders of a base, falling and hitting her head.  The result was a serious head injury.  The former cheerleader was suing the athlete that was the “spotter” on the stunt, who failed to catch her.  The former cheerleader was also suing the school district and the district’s insurer.  The former cheerleader argued that “contact sports” should mean only aggressive sports such as football and hockey.  The justice that wrote the opinion, Justice Annette Ziegler, disagreed stating that it should include any sport that includes “physical contact between persons”.  This does not totally protect athletes from suing another athlete, but it can only be done if it is determined that the athlete was “acting recklessly” and that decision resulted in injury.  The justice stated that the teammate did not “show recklessness”, rather just showed lack of skill and/or made a mistake.

                With the Wisconsin case, the fear had been that families would have been forced to take out large insurance policies to protect their athlete against liability if they had participated in the sport of cheerleading.  Could you imagine – on top of all the other expenses we incur – having to take out liability insurance so your child could participate in cheerleading?  I am a business owner, and the nature of our business we have to have liability insurance for protection.  It is considered an “a-typical” type of insurance and therefore it has to be paid in total upfront.  I cringe at the thought of plopping down $800 for insurance each year so my kid could cheer (and that amount would totally depend on the state you live in).  YIKES!

                It was amazing to me how much is out there about cheerleading being a sport.  The most interesting to me was the “position paper” that the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA) wrote.  They agree that there is skill and physical ability associated with cheerleading, and they also agree that IN PART cheerleading meets the definition of “sport”.  They argue that people wanted cheerleading defined as a sport so that it would get funding like football, get qualified coaches that would be paid a salary like a football coach and would garnish them some strength in the world of academic sports like football.  In their assessment what has happened was there was no increased funding, states came in and restricted things like stunts, practice times and travel ranges as well as creating fundraising restrictions and in some cases they were required to participate in more competitions to meet the definition of a “sport”.  They also wrote about coaches struggling to retain athletes who were unhappy with all of the restrictions and such.  They wrote that athletes unhappy with all of the restrictions placed on school cheer ended up opting for “all-star” cheer instead, leaving school competition teams to participate in all-star cheer teams, where they were not under such restrictions.  The AACCA proposes instead of labeling cheerleading a “sport”, create a separate designation, choosing to refer to it as an “athletic activity” so that the physical demand is recognized, but yet there is no interference from outside rule makers forcing the teams to comply to demands of other sports teams that they can’t structurally handle due to the nature of the team. 

                I think that is a unique way of looking at the argument.  We all want the sport – and I do think it is a sport – to be equally recognized for the physical demands, the skill and the mental toughness that a cheerleader needs to compete in the world of cheerleading.  But who wants the state to come in and enforce unreasonable rules and restrictions?  Who wants the state to come in and say “for anyone under the age of 12, there is no more tossing into the air; they must always be connected to the floor by another athlete.  There can be no release moves for anyone under 12”?  I know that there are many all-star teams that would be SCREWED at the highest team levels because they use those athletes as flyers.  There goes the level designation as structured by the USASF.  And then what about it being a STATE rule?  So you can go fly in New Jersey, but only for “basket tosses” and “cradles”, but no other release moves allowed; but in Wisconsin there is NO release moves allowed.  Now teams from both states travel to Florida to compete, where release moves are allowed, but only for athletes 14 and older.  What a mess that would be!cheer a sport7

                It is possible that the thought of designation of cheerleading being a sport has many different mental thoughts.  Where I am thinking (as I am sure many others are as well) that a designation of “sport” gives cheerleading some “street cred”.  It gives it some respect in the world of competition.  Like designating volleyball as a sport did for it.  There is also the mindset that a sport designation brings in regulation and lawyers.  It brings in the world of structure and more structure; states can make laws managing it.  That would make the world of all-star cheerleading a much smaller place if each state could actually restrict the moves different AGED athletes can do, thus making it impossible to do a routine in Illinois AND North Carolina that are the same and equally competitive.  What about coaching restrictions, requiring coaches to pay a ton of money for certifications and schooling?  What would THAT do to gym fees for us parents?  Now how about limiting practice times by age?  There are so many things that could happen that would upset the delicate balance that has emerged that no one is thinking about by wanting this designation.  Yes – I want the SPORT of cheerleading to be recognized for the demands physically and mentally that it has.  Yes – I want the ATHLETES to be recognized for the skills that they obviously possess.  Yes – I want there to be a governing body that implements the rules for all gyms and competitions to be equal and everyone competes on a “level playing field”.  But do I want it to be broken down by state, allowing lawmakers to have their say on what has to happen and restrictions to be put on the world of cheer varying by each state?  I know I don’t want that at all.

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                I can’t believe that I even typed that statement!  What is even more amazing is that I can’t believe that in this day and age we are STILL debating this very question!  Shame on society and their narrow views that still effect...