Is Cheerleading a Varsity Sport?


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It takes a certain amount of skill, lots of practice and a level of enthusiasm unique to its craft. What am I talking about? Cheerleading.

Cheerleaders have been been whooping up crowds for more than a century, a familiar face on the sidelines of football and basketball games as well as at other sporting contests.

Though you wouldn’t argue that football and basketball do not qualify as team sports, you may not feel the same way about cheerleading.

But one school is arguing that cheerleading is a sport and has taken its case to court. Quinnipiac University in Connecticut is in federal court to determine if the proposed elimination of its women’s volleyball program violates participation requirements of Title IX.

Title IX is a four decade old law mandating colleges and universities provide equal access to sports for men and women alike. It isn’t without some controversy either: a number of schools have dropped popular mens sports in order to comply with the law and level the playing field.

Instead of bringing the number of money losing womens sports programs up to the level offered to its men, a number of schools have chosen to limit their programs in a bid to balance their sport budgets.

Quinnipiac wants to count its cheerleading squad as a varsity sport as a means to satisfy the participation requirements of Title IX. The school plans to drop its volleyball team in favor of cheerleading, but has been blocked from doing so. Under current rules, cheerleading is not considered a varsity sport.

The case is now in court where expert testimony is being heard. Jeff Webb, founder and CEO of Varsity Spirit, a leading organization in cheerleading, has testified, but what he said is likely to stir the pot more than settle the issue.

“We support any effort that promotes cheerleading or that creates opportunities for women and girls,” Webb said. “At the same time, we want to make sure that any sport designation does not take away the traditional role of cheerleading and that we preserve the very qualities that make cheerleading such an appealing activity for young people. I’m thinking of leadership, ambassadorship, service in the community: these are the character traits that cheerleading has always fostered.”

Webb makes a distinction between standard cheerleading and what has become known as All Star cheerleading. Under the latter category, competitions are held to promote the best squad, but Webb believes that All Star is a different breed. In fact, he recommends separating traditional cheerleading from All Star cheerleading and renaming the latter.

Said Webb, “Whatever resolution occurs, cheerleading must be allowed to retain its true values and function which have evolved over the past 100 years: leadership, spirit raising, entertainment, athleticism, and an element of competition.”

Federal judge Stefan R. Underhill is hearing the case in Bridgeport with the ACLU weighing in on behalf of the volleyball team. Speaking for the university, Mark Thompson, vice president of Student and Academic Affairs, has said that volleyball will still be dropped by the school no matter how Underhill rules on cheerleading.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia file photo


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Categories: Collegiate Sports