Introducing Three Cheers for Cheerleaders

Rachel Coor

Rachel Coor

What is a sport? Most of us, without ever googling the definition, could come up with a multitude of criteria; it must be competitive, it must be athletic, it must be scored, and there must be a winner. The list could go on and on. According to Wikipedia, the following definition of “sport” is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”. I found that definition online, so it must be true.

As I begin this new adventure into blogging about cheerleading in Maine, I feel like it’s important to first establish the guidelines for the topic I’ll be writing about. I’m partial to it, so please forgive my biased opinion. I’ve had the “Is cheerleading a sport?” debate many times over the course of my coaching career, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is all in the eyes of the beholder. Hopefully as we move along throughout the year (I have so much to cover!), my skeptical readers will, at the very least, entertain the idea that cheerleading IS, without a doubt, a sport. And for those of you who already believe it, I hope to entertain you with some aspects of competitive cheer that you may never have considered. Don’t worry – I won’t waste your time every week with the debate of whether or not competitive cheer is a sport. Instead, I hope to enlighten you all with details you may never have considered; things like safety, training, competition results, and so on. But for now, let the debate begin.

“It’s not a sport because it’s so subjective”…… When most of us talk “sports”, we think of basketball, baseball, soccer, field hockey, and a plethora of other athletic activities. These events are all scored, and the points are obvious (the ball either goes in or it doesn’t). The issue most often raised in the cheerleading debate is with judges subjectivity. You can’t win if the judges don’t like your routine, right? Well maybe. But I’ve also heard plenty of angry fans claim “that ref just had it out for us” at the end of a high school basketball game. And don’t tell me there’s no subjectivity in baseball, or in football, or in wrestling, or in soccer. Can a basketball referee make or break a game with a questionable foul call? Of course. Can an umpire call a strike on what might otherwise have been the “ball four” that would have walked the batter and driven in the game winning run? Yes on that one, too. Come to think of it, if we were going to define “sport” by whether or not there is subjectivity, I think golf and bowling might be the only ones that would qualify.

“It’s not a sport because even a judge in Connecticut ruled that it wasn’t”…..This case dealt with a Title IX issue and the school failed to show that their cheerleaders met enough criteria to be considered a sport according to the NCAA. Oddly enough, I believe the court’s holding was actually correct on the issue. I’m an aspiring law student, so I’m allowed to agree. In college cheerleading, there’s no official National Championship sanctioned by the NCAA, the teams are not ranked during their season, there’s no playoffs, there are very few rules on age limits of athletes or on the number of years a student can be on the cheerleading team, and there are no recruiting guidelines in place. Essentially, college cheerleaders are held to very few of the same standards as the other college athletes around the country. So yes, it would be ridiculous for the NCAA to claim cheerleading as a sport based on the standards they set for other athletes. However, here in Maine, cheer teams are held to the same standards as the other winter sports teams; the seasons begin and end at the same time, there is a ranking process to go to the state championship, and the score sheet is based largely on objective points (the skill was either performed, or it wasn’t). All of that criteria validates the Maine Principals Association’s ability to claim cheerleading as a sport.

“But cheerleading isn’t athletic”…..Perhaps this was true forty years ago. In my mother’s generation, cheer tryouts were somewhat of a popularity contest. Games were a matter of cheering on the boys, and cheers were complete with knee high socks and large, colorful pom-pons. A few split jumps, some pretty blonde hair, and a fine figure might have been enough to make the team. Stereotypical statement, I know. But today, tryouts are based on strength and gymnastics ability, most cheerleaders could care less about sideline cheers, and pom-pons in competition hardly exist. There’s no denying the standards have changed.

In today’s world of cheerleading, there are state competitions, regional competitions, and national competitions. Heck, there’s even a cheerleading World’s competition. These kids are throwing each other high in the air, contorting their bodies into positions most yoga instructors would drool over, and spending thousands of dollars on private instruction. They are participating in an activity that rivals football for the amount of physical contact they have with each other. Some of them flip like Olympic gymnasts. Their core strength and body control is unbelievable. They practice year round to perfect a routine jam packed with acrobatics you might expect to see in a Cirque De Soleil show in Vegas. Good cheer competitions truly are incredible to watch.

So back to my original question – IS cheerleading really a sport? I certainly believe it is, at least as far as Maine high school sports are concerned, if nothing else than because it meets the criteria set forth by the MPA for all high school sports. As for cheerleading across the rest of the country, it’s safe to say, at the very least, that it is an athletic activity. It even meets the criteria in the Wikipedia definition. Let’s give credit where credit is due. There are hundreds of kids involved in the sport in our state alone, and they deserve all the recognition they can get. In addition to the events they compete in, they are also present at many other sporting events, cheering on their friends and classmates. So let’s hear it, crowd – three cheers for cheerleaders!

Rachel Coor

About Rachel Coor

Rachel currently serves as the secretary on the board of the Maine Cheerleading Coaches Association, which works to educate cheer coaches and raise college scholarships for cheer athletes throughout the state. She is also the head varsity cheer coach at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, and was previously the varsity coach at Rockland District High School from 1997-2004.