High school cheerleaders no longer have to defend what they do as being a sport. The New York State Board of Regents has done it for them.
With last week’s unanimous vote, the Board of Regents approved competitive cheer as a sport across the state. This allows the New York State Public High School Athletic Association to place the same standards on cheerleading as it does on its other sports such as football and basketball – the same events most associated with cheerleading.
This move is long overdue on two fronts. First, it gives cheerleading the recognition it has deserved for decades. Second, it gives cheerleaders and their coaches guidelines to follow.
For years, the knock against cheerleading as a sport has been the perception that all cheerleaders do is entertain the fans during timeouts and between quarters. That was how things were back in the 1950s and 1960s, when cheerleaders simply stood on the sidelines.
However, cheerleading has evolved into dance routines with complicated timing, lifts and throws — all of which have to be executed correctly or risk serious injury. That means several hours of practice every week just to be ready for a Friday night football or basketball game, which is nearly the same amount of work the athletes the cheerleaders cheer for put in. It’s physical, it’s difficult and it can lead to serious injuries such as concussions and torn ligaments.
This is why officially earning recognition as a sport from the Board of Regents is crucial for cheerleading. Now that it can fully bring cheerleading under its umbrella, NYSPHAA can give the sport guidelines to follow, including certification criteria for coaches, limits to the length of the season and safety procedures when an athlete suffers a head injury. This is not to say cheerleaders weren’t treated well or coached well in the past. All this does is ensures that cheerleaders will be given the proper treatment and coaching going forward.
It also opens the door for a first-of-its-kind statewide high school cheerleading championship. NYSPHSAA has already staged regional championships the past two years, and executive director Robert Zayas said in a statement Monday, April 28, that the organization is looking to “highlight and promote the incredible athletes who participate in the sport with a championship event.” Questions about the event’s location, number of divisions and the qualification process for participating at states (will there be cheerleading sectionals?) must be addressed, but a statewide event is closer than ever to being created.
An added bonus: cheerleading is the only sport that offers boys and girls equal opportunity to participate on the same team. Since Title IX was introduced in 1972, there has been a concerted effort to give girls the same athletic opportunities as boys at the high school and collegiate levels — to the point where some male teams have been eliminated because they skewed the percentages too far to one side. That won’t be an issue with cheerleading. Boys and girls are welcomed equally, as long as they take the sport seriously. It’s Title IX personified in one sport.
So, let’s give three cheers to the Board of Regents for recognizing cheerleading as a sport. It’s a distinction that is deserved and long overdue.