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Cheerleading a sport? Time to take 2nd look


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I admit my view of high school cheerleaders used to be they were popular girls who painted banners, dated older students and refused to hang out with the dweebs in their own class.

Perhaps that’s why cheerleaders seldom get the respect they deserve as athletes. Maybe some people hold a grudge.

Anyone who watches Big Ten basketball knows today’s brand of cheerleaders are athletic. Are they athletes?

To this point, the NCAA has been able to sidestep the issue. The powers that be continue to study the argument, a process that most likely will continue until the squeaky wheel becomes a dragster with a

bad valve.

If left well enough alone, cheerleading squads are like club teams. They aren’t official members of the athletics department, and they don’t have any effect on Title IX requirements when it comes to balancing sports opportunities for men and women.

Quinnipiac University tried to add competitive cheerleading on its sports roster and, by doing so, had more female opportunities (scholarships) and therefore could cut its female volleyball team. The courts ruled that competitive cheerleading didn’t meet the requirements of being considered a sport.

One of the deciding factors has been the NCAA’s failure to recognize competitive cheer, also referred to as “stunt,” as  a sport.

Without that endorsement, schools have been slow to add competitive cheer to their programs, although competitive cheerleading is showing up on more college websites listed along with the other athletics teams.

I would imagine it’s only a matter of time before competitive cheerleading is added to the NCAA roster. The NCAA, and universities, are shopping for more choices to make when it comes to adding programs. Triathlon was just added by the NCAA as an emerging sport.

The NCAA website explains: “An emerging sport is a sport recognized by the NCAA that is intended to explore new sports and grow participation opportunities for female student-athletes. Institutions are allowed to use emerging sports to help meet the NCAA minimum sports sponsorship requirements, minimum financial aid award requirements and gender equity standards. Four former emerging sports have grown in sponsorship and been approved as NCAA championship sports — water polo, bowling, ice hockey and rowing.”

Hopefully the NCAA will take a “the more the merrier” stance when it comes to identifying emerging sports.

When I lived in Pocatello, Idaho, Idaho State University was having a tough time identifying a sport to add to its women’s program. The university did not want to cut a men’s sport to meet Title IX requirements.

Consider the university already had a softball team in a state that has almost no real spring and a very long winter. Does softball at Idaho State make sense? Not really, but the choices are limited.

Competitive cheer would have been a logical choice.

It’s just that people remain thrown off by their former views of cheerleading. Rightly so, in some cases.

When I was covering the University of California-Berkeley, the cheerleaders were not able to do flips and acrobatics because of insurance requirements. Indeed, that was not a sports team.

Is IU’s program different?

Tony Nash, an Indiana University cheerleading coach, designed the acrobatic program that helped the Hoosiers claim their third consecutive national championship.

“Obviously, our primary purpose is to support Indiana athletics,” Nash said. “So with that in mind, no we are not a sports team. We do weight lifting and power lifting, but our primary purpose is not competition.”

Yes, but Coach Nash, you have won three national titles. Perhaps competition could be stated as the primary purpose?

“These girls are athletes,” Nash said. “Many of the sports teams’ seasons are three to four months. Ours starts in June and ends in April. We put in two to three months of work to prepare for national competition, five hours a day.

“Athleticism is high on our list. We want them to perform tumbles and partner stunts.”

Sounds like a sports team to me.

It also sounds like a battle of semantics. The performers are athletes, but the team is not?

Take it from a dweeb. Let’s take a second look.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at jheater@therepublic.com or 379-5632.

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