BY Deidre Silva 10:37AM 06/03/2011

Silva: Infighting complicates cheerleading’s future status

Traditional cheerleading is alive and well – replete with hair ribbons, high kicks and pom poms – but a new version of the activity threatens the conventional definition of “sport.”

Will these cheerleaders from the University of Louisville at the 2010 STUNT competition sponsored by USA Cheer be labeled athletes soon? / Courtesy USA Cheer

Semantics can be so messy.

Take, for example, the recent wrangling over the word “cheerleading.” The word is reminiscent of the universally enjoyed sideline distraction of perky girls, crisp football Saturdays, short skirts and saddle shoes.

But let’s get more specific. And less Norman Rockwellian.

I think cheerleading is entertainment because it is fun to watch. Most high schools regard cheerleading as an extracurricular activity because, among other things, it keeps kids off the streets.

Things get complicated in college. It is there that sports television networks capture cheerleaders’ nubile midriffs and flawless smiles as often as they broadcast the squad’s acrobatic basket-tosses and back handspring combinations. In college, it is customary for cheerleading teams have positions like “base” and “flyer.” The cheerleaders are all most decidedly agile. Athletic, even.

And, usually, when athletic people gather into teams, they do so in order to engage in a manner of sport.

Tread carefully, there is a linguistic rabbit hole ahead.

Last month two cheerleading organizations dragged the NCAA into what has become a contentious public debate about whether or not to consider a new version of cheerleading as an NCAA championship sport.

And there’s the rub. Cheerleading is fun. It’s cute. It’s bouncy. But, a sport?

Last summer, a federal court reflected public perception and decided that competitive cheerleading was not — whew! – a sport. Perhaps more important than the specifics of the ruling was the underlying effect that, because cheerleading wasn’t a sport, it could not be used by colleges and universities to satisfy Title IX’s proportionality requirement. The rule is intended to offer women and men the same educational opportunities at federally funded schools.

The judge based his decision on the lack of formal competitions as well as the absence of a national organization tasked with overseeing and regulating the activity at the collegiate level.

But it will take more than a federal court ruling to squelch the pep out of the cheerleading community. That trademark perky optimism is tenacious, if not insufferable.

“That ruling was a blessing in disguise because it offered a blueprint to do what we needed to do,” said John Blake, Executive Director of the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association.

In an effort to solidify cheerleading as a sport in the eyes of the NCAA, Blake’s NCATA and another organization, USA Cheer, codified the skill set demonstrated in traditional cheerleading, lined up participating schools, standardized a competition format and implemented a scoring system.

Infuriatingly, the two organizations arrived at separate derivations of competitive cheerleading.  The length of the competitions, or “games,” vary between the two sports. There is a different skill focus and, overall, disparate philosophies guiding the future of the sport. NCATA calls its sport tumbling and acrobatics; USA Cheer’s sport is STUNT.

Both organizations last month separately petitioned the NCAA’s Committee on Women’s Athletics to consider their own versions of cheerleading as an “emerging sport.”

When the NCAA gives a sport the “emerging” designation — a process that can take up to 18 months – the sport’s governing body has 10 years to gain championship status, which happens when 40 institutions recognize the sport at the varsity level. After almost 10 years on the emerging sport list, squash was recently removed because of a lack of growth. Rowing, ice hockey and water polo are now championship level sports that were once “emerging.” Sand volleyball’s stint as an emerging sport starts this August.

Politics aside, whether the NCAA decides to recognize either tumbling and acrobatics or STUNT as its emerging sport, the opportunity provided to female high school graduates by a competitive cheerleading-based, NCAA sanctioned and scholarship sport is enormous.

In 2010 the National Federation of State High School Associations reported that nearly 125,000 girls participated in high school cheerleading/spirit squads, making it the ninth most popular girls’ sport — fine, activity — in the nation.

In fact, the number of girls participating in high school cheerleading is nearly double the amount that participate in golf, the next most popular girls’ high school sport, and an NCAA championship sport since 1982. Bowling, an NCAA championship sport starting in 2004, had 25,000 high school girls participate in 2010.

A situation now exists that a starting high school quarterback has access to a college scholarship to play football while the equally athletic head cheerleader sitting next to him in Spanish class is offered few avenues to explore her chosen athletic activity after graduation.

Certainly none that will pay for her education.

Had she only picked up a baseball or football as a youngster then she, too, would have been better positioned to get a free education in exchange for her athletic aptitude. Or perhaps she should have picked up a weapon because fencing and rifling have been NCAA championship sports since 1990 and 2006, respectively.

When the NCAA approves a version of cheerleading as a sport — and I assure you, they cannot avoid doing so — athletic departments that choose to adopt the version of competitive cheer as a varsity sport will potentially see another problem vanish: Title IX compliance headaches.

Indeed, a new cheer-based sport will appeal to athletic directors who are looking for a low-cost, large roster scholarship sport to add to its arsenal of offerings for its female population. In this manner, the new sport affords schools a relatively easy way to increase educational opportunities for women, a federal mandate under Title IX.

Perhaps a problem approving the latest incarnation of competitive cheerleading – which has nothing to do with sideline support of another sport – lies in the court of public opinion.

It’s the glitter, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s the skirts and the hair ribbons. Maybe these women would have a fighting chance if they smack-talked, scowled and snarled during competitions.

“The question should be: Do they compete and are they athletes?” said Bill Seeley, Executive Director of USA Cheer. “Is the new format true to the intent of sports? Everything else is an accessory and personal and team preference.”

Nothing should stand in the way of granting the world’s future tumblers or STUNTers all the privileges granted to any NCAA student athlete.

But, first, the two national organizations need to find common ground and submit a single proposal to the NCAA.

If they do not, the very serious discussion of educational opportunity for hundreds of thousands of girls will be usurped by the territorial cat fight among adults.


YourThoughts

  • Proud Mom

    The 6 NCATA universities involved with one version of the “modified cheer” format has already invested over 2 million dollars in facilities, program, scholarships, etc on over 230 athletes.  They have provided the educational opportunity for women and are adding several universities…and scholarships…this upcoming season.  

    There will be no territorial cat fight among the adults as there is no common ground to find. The NCATA National Governing Body with a 501(c)3 IRS registered status is the same as all of the other NCAA and Olympic NGB’s controlling sports.  USA Cheer…STUNT…is a 501(c)6 trade organization owned and operated by the commercial profit company, Varsity Brands.  They publish they are an NGB, even call themselves a “non profit charity”, but according to the regulations governing sport in our country (the U.S. Code), they are not eligible to get much further in their quest.

    STUNT held their competition season in a 70-day window, each team competed once, 1/2 of them competed twice and 6 “who ever could fit it in their schedule” club teams flew (with their new uniforms, accommodations, entry fees paid for by Varsity) to the already scheduled Nationals (one of 64 offered per year).  Varsity provided a venue for the 6 club teams and named 22 athletes as All-Americans…that is one per school.  

    This “fight” will never occur.  In order to continue to provide scholarships this coming season, the third year, these Acrobatic and Tumbling NCATA athletes must remain amateurs, must be controlled by a true U.S. Code regulated NGB, must follow a true sport model and must adhere to NCAA rules and regulations as other sports on their campuses do. They also held a true National Championships.

    But here is the real rub of it all. The club cheer teams that competed in STUNT this last 70-day window season were offered money to play in the game.  Varsity paid the teams to attend with perks, travel stipends and more.  And all of this was under the permission of only the university’s head coach.  An NCATA university has the full support of the trustees, the president, the athletic department and the academic department.  A STUNT university comes to the Varsity table with the okay from the head coach – period.  They do not have the support of the university other than to cheer.

    So for the sake of my daughter, who is on scholarship at an NCATA Division-I university as an Acrobatics and Tumbling athlete, she is getting a first-class education paid for.  She is still an athlete with amateur status, she has a strength coach, a nutritionist, an academic advisor, 8 hours of tutoring per week, and the FULL support of the athletic department behind her helping her to succeed.  

    Since there really no common ground, no cat fight shall occur.  

    The Office of Civil Rights, the Women’s Sports Foundation, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics will soon discover the shell game Varsity is playing with.  They are not interested in providing opportunities for females in sport at a university level…they do not want to lose one of their biggest profit markets…the collegiate market.

    There is nothing in common between these two organizations, thank goodness!

  • Proud Mom

    The 6 NCATA universities involved with one version of the “modified cheer” format has already invested over 2 million dollars in facilities, program, scholarships, etc on over 230 athletes.  They have provided the educational opportunity for women and are adding several universities…and scholarships…this upcoming season.  

    There will be no territorial cat fight among the adults as there is no common ground to find. The NCATA National Governing Body with a 501(c)3 IRS registered status is the same as all of the other NCAA and Olympic NGB’s controlling sports.  USA Cheer…STUNT…is a 501(c)6 trade organization owned and operated by the commercial profit company, Varsity Brands.  They publish they are an NGB, even call themselves a “non profit charity”, but according to the regulations governing sport in our country (the U.S. Code), they are not eligible to get much further in their quest.

    STUNT held their competition season in a 70-day window, each team competed once, 1/2 of them competed twice and 6 “who ever could fit it in their schedule” club teams flew (with their new uniforms, accommodations, entry fees paid for by Varsity) to the already scheduled Nationals (one of 64 offered per year).  Varsity provided a venue for the 6 club teams and named 22 athletes as All-Americans…that is one per school.  

    This “fight” will never occur.  In order to continue to provide scholarships this coming season, the third year, these Acrobatic and Tumbling NCATA athletes must remain amateurs, must be controlled by a true U.S. Code regulated NGB, must follow a true sport model and must adhere to NCAA rules and regulations as other sports on their campuses do. They also held a true National Championships.

    But here is the real rub of it all. The club cheer teams that competed in STUNT this last 70-day window season were offered money to play in the game.  Varsity paid the teams to attend with perks, travel stipends and more.  And all of this was under the permission of only the university’s head coach.  An NCATA university has the full support of the trustees, the president, the athletic department and the academic department.  A STUNT university comes to the Varsity table with the okay from the head coach – period.  They do not have the support of the university other than to cheer.

    So for the sake of my daughter, who is on scholarship at an NCATA Division-I university as an Acrobatics and Tumbling athlete, she is getting a first-class education paid for.  She is still an athlete with amateur status, she has a strength coach, a nutritionist, an academic advisor, 8 hours of tutoring per week, and the FULL support of the athletic department behind her helping her to succeed.  

    Since there really no common ground, no cat fight shall occur.  

    The Office of Civil Rights, the Women’s Sports Foundation, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics will soon discover the shell game Varsity is playing with.  They are not interested in providing opportunities for females in sport at a university level…they do not want to lose one of their biggest profit markets…the collegiate market.

    There is nothing in common between these two organizations, thank goodness!

  • Michael Kaiser

    “[C]heerleading is entertainment” because, to be quite blunt, cheerleaders appear at sports events predominately populated by men who, while looking at the skits the cheerleaders put on, are quite often thinking of something else entirely.  And cheerleaders know this.  So give them scholarships.  Call it a sport.  They are an integral part of many sports events.

    • Mckinleys2

      Apparently you are one of the under informed and who feels entitled to offer opinions, this series of movements has roots in the sideline Cheer you describe which is dedicated to raising School Spirit … nothing more!  By the way, since you have not been paying close attention the Collegiate level Cheer Squad currently is full of many men who are NOT wearing skirts.  Therefore, the discussion of a competitive group of dedicated female athletes is NOT about the sideline performances, pep-rally’s, athletic booster or Alumni events.
       
      The “Emerging Sport” status is for a group of athletes dedicated to pursuit of excellence in their specific skill sets, tumbling, stunts, pyramids, basket tosses and the popular Team Routine!  A&T is NOT sideline cheers & chants focused around activity you may see currently on ESPN, it new, exciting, challenging, changing and creating new potentials for Title IX to live up to its mandate to provide Sport opportunities for female athletes.
      Pay attention this is NEW and it is NOT sideline cheer!  

  • Michael Kaiser

    “[C]heerleading is entertainment” because, to be quite blunt, cheerleaders appear at sports events predominately populated by men who, while looking at the skits the cheerleaders put on, are quite often thinking of something else entirely.  And cheerleaders know this.  So give them scholarships.  Call it a sport.  They are an integral part of many sports events.

    • Mckinleys2

      Apparently you are one of the under informed and who feels entitled to offer opinions, this series of movements has roots in the sideline Cheer you describe which is dedicated to raising School Spirit … nothing more!  By the way, since you have not been paying close attention the Collegiate level Cheer Squad currently is full of many men who are NOT wearing skirts.  Therefore, the discussion of a competitive group of dedicated female athletes is NOT about the sideline performances, pep-rally’s, athletic booster or Alumni events.
       
      The “Emerging Sport” status is for a group of athletes dedicated to pursuit of excellence in their specific skill sets, tumbling, stunts, pyramids, basket tosses and the popular Team Routine!  A&T is NOT sideline cheers & chants focused around activity you may see currently on ESPN, it new, exciting, challenging, changing and creating new potentials for Title IX to live up to its mandate to provide Sport opportunities for female athletes.
      Pay attention this is NEW and it is NOT sideline cheer!  

  • Myeye Seesall

    Diedre Diedre Diedra… a perfect example of lack of home training.  Didn’t Mom tell you if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?

    Acrobatics and tumbling is a very real and incredible sport.  It was specifically created in the image of the standard NCAA or Olympic model of how a sport should be governed and structured.  It meets every definition of the concept of sport.  Unfortunately, Silva-tongued, uninformed people have completely missed the evolution from perky girls and saddle shoes.  In doing so, their limited knowledge on the topic is rooted in the traditional sideline version of cheerleading.  As a cheer coach, I will be the first to agree, that is a version that is not a sport.

    The evolution of cheerleading has culminated in the sport of Acrobatics and Tumbling.  Perhaps an example that makes for a good parallel is to consider flag football.  Most people probably think it’s a fun game you can play.  Perhaps for the more serious levels of competing, there are leagues, tournaments and championships even.  I would loosely call it a sport because the opportunity to compete, practice for competition, the standard rules and scoring.  However, I think the general idea would be that football is the real sport.  Take away the flag and add in tackling.  Change a few non contact rules and put pads on.  Emphasize athleticism, talent and strength and suddenly there are no “weekend warriors” or casual athletes doing something recreational to stay in shape.  Now you have a full blown sport called football. 
    Acrobatics and tumbling did the very same thing in evolving from cheerleading.  The sport eliminated the popular girls image, the signs and pom poms, short skirts and role as a support activity.  The extremely athletic elements of gymnastics, stunts, basket tosses and pyramids were emphasized and structured into a head to head objective format similar to track, swimming or gymnastics.  Much like flag football and contact football, traditional cheerleading and acrobatics and tumbling share a similar comparison of activity to sport.

    When the proposal sent to the NCAA by the NCATA for acrobatics and tumbling to become a sport is referred to as cheerleading, then of course the argument is an easy one to win.  Traditional sideline cheerleading is not a sport.  However, no one is trying to make it a sport.  The six universities that sponsor a varsity level intercollegiate acrobatics and tumbling team have a traditional sideline cheerleading team that still cheers at games and athletic events.  Acrobatics and tumbling is what is being proposed as a sport.  Put a Silva star beside the point in the article made that it’s root form of competitive cheerleading is the 9th most popular womens’ sport in high school.  Put a gold star beside the fact that it has more popularity and participation than current NCAA women’s sport such as Bowling, Rifle, Rowing, Ice Hockey, Equestrian, Rugby, Fencing, Field Hockey, Lacrosse, Tennis, Water Polo and Golf.  In fact, of all NCAA women’s sports, only basketball, volleyball, soccer, track, swimming/diving and softball have more participation among high school girl feeding into the college ranks.  Even if acrobatics and tumbling doesn’t captivate your attention, there’s no denying it does more than just the attention of young women.  Colleges are not only bound by Title IX to give equal opportunities for females, but part of that opportunity is to “meet the interests and abilities” of those women.  In other words offer the sports that women and girls WANT to participate in.

    Perhaps a little more research and understanding might temper the uncalled for disparaging of cheerleading found in Silva’s article.  Making fun of young girls just is not cool.  Missing the whole concept behind the NCAA proposal for acrobatics and tumbling isn’t cool either.  Then again, acrobatics and tumbling is seeking the gold standard of approval from the NCAA, not Silva…

  • Myeye Seesall

    Diedre Diedre Diedra… a perfect example of lack of home training.  Didn’t Mom tell you if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?

    Acrobatics and tumbling is a very real and incredible sport.  It was specifically created in the image of the standard NCAA or Olympic model of how a sport should be governed and structured.  It meets every definition of the concept of sport.  Unfortunately, Silva-tongued, uninformed people have completely missed the evolution from perky girls and saddle shoes.  In doing so, their limited knowledge on the topic is rooted in the traditional sideline version of cheerleading.  As a cheer coach, I will be the first to agree, that is a version that is not a sport.

    The evolution of cheerleading has culminated in the sport of Acrobatics and Tumbling.  Perhaps an example that makes for a good parallel is to consider flag football.  Most people probably think it’s a fun game you can play.  Perhaps for the more serious levels of competing, there are leagues, tournaments and championships even.  I would loosely call it a sport because the opportunity to compete, practice for competition, the standard rules and scoring.  However, I think the general idea would be that football is the real sport.  Take away the flag and add in tackling.  Change a few non contact rules and put pads on.  Emphasize athleticism, talent and strength and suddenly there are no “weekend warriors” or casual athletes doing something recreational to stay in shape.  Now you have a full blown sport called football. 
    Acrobatics and tumbling did the very same thing in evolving from cheerleading.  The sport eliminated the popular girls image, the signs and pom poms, short skirts and role as a support activity.  The extremely athletic elements of gymnastics, stunts, basket tosses and pyramids were emphasized and structured into a head to head objective format similar to track, swimming or gymnastics.  Much like flag football and contact football, traditional cheerleading and acrobatics and tumbling share a similar comparison of activity to sport.

    When the proposal sent to the NCAA by the NCATA for acrobatics and tumbling to become a sport is referred to as cheerleading, then of course the argument is an easy one to win.  Traditional sideline cheerleading is not a sport.  However, no one is trying to make it a sport.  The six universities that sponsor a varsity level intercollegiate acrobatics and tumbling team have a traditional sideline cheerleading team that still cheers at games and athletic events.  Acrobatics and tumbling is what is being proposed as a sport.  Put a Silva star beside the point in the article made that it’s root form of competitive cheerleading is the 9th most popular womens’ sport in high school.  Put a gold star beside the fact that it has more popularity and participation than current NCAA women’s sport such as Bowling, Rifle, Rowing, Ice Hockey, Equestrian, Rugby, Fencing, Field Hockey, Lacrosse, Tennis, Water Polo and Golf.  In fact, of all NCAA women’s sports, only basketball, volleyball, soccer, track, swimming/diving and softball have more participation among high school girl feeding into the college ranks.  Even if acrobatics and tumbling doesn’t captivate your attention, there’s no denying it does more than just the attention of young women.  Colleges are not only bound by Title IX to give equal opportunities for females, but part of that opportunity is to “meet the interests and abilities” of those women.  In other words offer the sports that women and girls WANT to participate in.

    Perhaps a little more research and understanding might temper the uncalled for disparaging of cheerleading found in Silva’s article.  Making fun of young girls just is not cool.  Missing the whole concept behind the NCAA proposal for acrobatics and tumbling isn’t cool either.  Then again, acrobatics and tumbling is seeking the gold standard of approval from the NCAA, not Silva…

  • Mckinleys2

     Although you have captured some of significant similarities in the two organizations pursuing OCR and Title IX approval, you may have missed the boat in accurately depicting the significant differences!
     
    NCATA is supported through the University/College Athletic Departments and Presidents by currently providing these new athletes the same support as the balance of their athletes and they have a true non-Profit National Governing Board (NGB).
     
    Stunt does NOT identify the participants as Collegiate athletes therefore they do NOT receive all the same benefits & restrictions as other collegiate sports and the NGB is supported by and represents a FOR-profit corporation!
    In two specific points, you can see significant differences and what you refer to as “cat fighting” is really a question of creating a New Sport with its roots in Cheer and Gymnastics yet different and allowing thousands of new scholarship secondary education opportunities for female athletes, NCATA is actually providing these whereas STUNT is not!   It  is not “cat fighting” or “branding” that is ultimately important in this discussion, but a NEW opportunity for Collegiate Scholarships for thousands of young female athletes.
     

  • Mckinleys2

     Although you have captured some of significant similarities in the two organizations pursuing OCR and Title IX approval, you may have missed the boat in accurately depicting the significant differences!
     
    NCATA is supported through the University/College Athletic Departments and Presidents by currently providing these new athletes the same support as the balance of their athletes and they have a true non-Profit National Governing Board (NGB).
     
    Stunt does NOT identify the participants as Collegiate athletes therefore they do NOT receive all the same benefits & restrictions as other collegiate sports and the NGB is supported by and represents a FOR-profit corporation!
    In two specific points, you can see significant differences and what you refer to as “cat fighting” is really a question of creating a New Sport with its roots in Cheer and Gymnastics yet different and allowing thousands of new scholarship secondary education opportunities for female athletes, NCATA is actually providing these whereas STUNT is not!   It  is not “cat fighting” or “branding” that is ultimately important in this discussion, but a NEW opportunity for Collegiate Scholarships for thousands of young female athletes.
     

  • Gary

    Beautiful!!!!

  • art thiel

     Thanks. Rare evening, remarkable people.

  • jafabian

    For awhile there I was wondering if the M’s might send Hector Noesi to Tacoma and sign Moyer for the rest of the season as their #5 pitcher as that I don’t think any of their minor league prospects are quite ready for the big time yet but it looks like the club is willing to throw them out to the wolves whether they’re ready or not.

    • Artthiel

       Moyer said they made no contact. Moyer was not a fan of Johjima’s work calling a game, and that pretty much ended his desire to stay. They’ll bring back Beavan if Noesi falters.