Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Is cheerleading a sport?

with 5 comments

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“Is cheerleading a sport?” isn’t some sort of semantic question, like “is bowling a sport,” “is auto racing a sport,” or “is challenge pissing a sport.” (The link is NSFW language, but it’s not what you think. Or hope, if you’re R. Kelly.)

“Is cheerleading a sport” is a question that will be answered in a courtroom, and it could have an effect on how boys and girls are counted when it comes to Title IX, the federal law guaranteeing equal access by gender for any student in any school that receives federal money.

A trial started Mon., June 21 against Quinnipiac University (the Fighting Pollsters!) of Hamden, Conn., which is being sued by six women’s volleyball players over the school’s dropping their program. The players contend the elimination, as part of budget cuts, violated Title IX federal guidelines. A judge has already sort-of agreed, granting a temporary injunction to keep women’s vollyeball alive at Quinnipiac and granted the lawsuit class-action status.

That’s all well and good. But more interesting is one way Quinnipiac sought to prove that its female athletic participation is in step with its 62-38 female-male ratio: by elevating competitive cheer, with its 40 female members, to the rank of “sport.” From the New Haven (Conn.) Register:

The trial could ultimately be a referendum on competitive cheer, the gymnastic-like sport that is neither recognized as a varsity sport by the NCAA nor listed as an emerging sport. Quinnipiac initially intended to replace the 11-member volleyball program with a much larger competitive cheer squad.

According to published reports, cost estimates for a roster of 40 in competitive cheer is approximately $50,000. The volleyball budget was over $70,000 for 11 players last year.

Competitive cheer has many of the qualities of gymnastics, yet to some, it’s just an extension of “sideline cheer,” which is commonly seen at collegiate sporting events.

Others see competitive cheer as a low-cost loophole used to inflate the proportionality of female athletes at a school.

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which sets the guidelines for Title IX student participation does not have a specific ruling to allow or disallow competitive cheer, but in 2008 issued a “Dear Colleague letter” which provided clarifying information to help institutions determine which intercollegiate or interscholastic athletic activities can be counted for the purpose of Title IX compliance. The letter indicates that when OCR conducts an investigation to determine whether an institution provides equal athletic opportunities as required by Title IX regulations, OCR evaluates the opportunities provided by the institution on a case by case basis.

Quinnipiac is currently in an alliance called the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association which includes the universities of Maryland, Oregon, Baylor, Ohio State (club team), Fairmont State of West Virginia, Azusa Pacific of California and Fort Valley State of Georgia.

If this were a movie, there would be a climatic scene in which the competitive cheer team performs in court, and the judge, so moved, declares: “You ARE a sport after all!” And everybody hugs.

In 2009, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared cheerleading was a sport — and a contact sport at that, in that competitors were in physical contact with each other. (And given the high injury rates for competitive cheer, you’d be safer on the football field instead.) However, that ruling wasn’t for Title IX purposes. It was to disallow a cheerleader’s right to sue the partner who failed to catch her, as well as the school and its insurance company to pay for treating her injuries.

In some states, the high school athletic ruling body includes competitive cheer under its jurisdiction, although often it seems like it does so to pull the same kind of Title IX shenanigans in which Quinnipiac is accused of engaging. For example, in 2009 the Florida High School Athletic Association had plans to cut back every sport but football (which it declared was coed because three girls played) and competitive cheer. Those plans were beaten back by Title IX activists, among others. And Florida’s inclusion of competitive cheer also seemed similar to why catchers have to report with pitchers to spring training. Somebody’s gotta cheer for the football team, and somebody has to catch the ball.

As of this writing, the Quinnipiac trial is ongoing.

5 Responses

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  1. Just because there is no male equivalent, does not mean cheerleading is not a sport.

    It’s ironic how title IX, viewed by old school feminists as a major victory, is now preventing cheerleading from being classified as a sport.

    Fruzsina Eordogh

    June 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm

  2. I don’t normally like when people assume that anything which is challenging or difficult (like chess or cup-stacking or video gaming or whatever) is a “sport.” But at least cheering is an athletic competition.

    Things like gymnastics and diving are Title IX sports which require athleticism…and judges to determine a winner. I’d be hard-pressed to explain the difference between a gymnastics floor routine and cheerleading.

    Then again, competitive cheer is often just one step removed from competitive dance. Generally in the academic world, art and sport have very different, specific meanings.


    June 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm

  3. It raises one most interesting question.

    If this is a sport, stripping’s a sport. Dancing’s a sport.

    Even break dancing would become a sport. Since it requires competitive movement. Hmmm….

    Laws are always fascinating in how they change the world far too fast.

    Jack Lorge

    June 23, 2010 at 11:21 pm

  4. In my state not many males participate in competitive cheer but I know the cheer coach would love to have them because it elevates the kind of routines that can be preformed. This is in contrast to football where I think you’d be very hard pressed to find a coach wishing more females would try out. Competitive cheer is an activity that is judged based on criteria in head to head situations and those who participate work thier butts off in order to compete in and win these competitions. It should be considered a coed sport and the vollyball team should be reinstated. If you cut anything (I don’t think they should) it would have to be cheer due to it’s coed status. My question is; why does it cost 70k to run a volleyball team?


    June 24, 2010 at 11:54 am

  5. Coach’s salary is probably most of that. Plus travel, plus recruiting costs, plus whatever they’re charged for their share of facilities. All told, for a Division I college program, $70K is not all that much.

    Bob Cook

    June 24, 2010 at 1:39 pm

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