Sis boom bah: Law would label cheer as school sport
(Calif.) State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez thinks it’s time cheerleaders get the same respect and support as other high school athletes who play on more traditional sports teams such as basketball, football and soccer.
The San Diego Democrat, herself a former high school and college cheerleader, plans to introduce legislation this session that would recognize the activity as an official sport, sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation or CIF – the governing body for school athletics.
Details of Gonzalez’s proposal have yet to be unveiled, but the mere suggestion raises numerous questions about the impacts such a shift would have on K-12 districts and athletes, and threatens to put California in the middle of a national debate that has raged for more than a decade.
“Cheerleading doesn’t need to be made a sport,” said Tammy Van Vleet, president of the Golden State Spirit Association, a 15-year old organization that hosts 32 cheer competitions across the country and hands out $10,000 in scholarships each year. “Doing so would limit the season; it would limit the travel the teams could do. I just don’t feel like this is something that is needed.”
Supporters, however, say recognizing cheer as a sport will lead to better coaching, increased safety oversight and greater access to school athletic funding. It could also provide an opportunity for more districts to comply with Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in education, including sports.
In a TV interview earlier this month, Gonzalez said cheerleaders deserve the kind of respect that other athletes already get. “You have athletes who are tumbling, stunting, conditioning,” she said. “This is a true sport.”
CIF spokeswoman Rebecca Brutlag acknowledged that her organization has had “several discussions” with Gonzalez staffers but said that absent an official proposal, no action has been taken.
In fact, barring a law requiring it, the only way CIF is likely to recognize cheerleading as a sport is if California schools push for it.
“We’re governed from the ground up,” said Brutlag. “Schools would have to decide that they want CIF to recognize cheerleading as a sport and they have not done that.”
Not as a whole, anyway.
But some individual districts – and some other state athletic organizations – have adopted their own policies recognizing cheer as a sport.
Last fall, Chico Unified School District established cheerleading as a sport in order to bring it under the umbrella of the district’s athletic program – and its insurance guidelines.
Last spring, New York’s Board of Regents voted to recognize competitive cheerleading as an interscholastic sport – something several sources say nearly 30 other states have already done.
Cheer teams in New York that only root from the sidelines at other sporting events won't be impacted, but teams that participate in competitions will be subject to official New York State Public High School Athletic Association rules on issues such as length of seasons, required practice days and time between competitions.
The courts have also struggled with the question.
In a personal injury suit from 2009, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found cheerleading is a full-contact sport after a participant was hurt during a practice session – a ruling that excluded participants from liability.
In contrast, a federal court ruled in 2010 that college cheerleading did not qualify as a sport for purposes of Title IX, citing a current lack of program development and organization.