For a long time I was in the cheerleading-is-not-a-sport camp. This attitude partly stemmed from my own experiences in the early 1980s as a middle school cheerleader and briefly, until I realized the group was more about cementing popularity than about dancing, a high school pom-pom girl. There was nothing strenuous or rigorous about what we were doing; we were playacting, mostly, at what we thought cheerleading was supposed to look like. I don’t recall advisors or coaches, I don’t recall warming up or wearing out, and we certainly never competed against anyone.
Since then, of course, cheering has morphed into something completely different. Whether you have witnessed the outcome from the actual sidelines or just on a screen, isn’t it obvious that what you are seeing is just as much a sport as, say, golf or gymnastics? Behind those plastered smiles and excrutiatingly tight ponytails are athletes working every bit of their bodies to adhere to specific judging criteria. I have been to cheerleading competitions. There is nothing “underdeveloped and disorganized” about them, contrary to what U.S. District Court judge Stefan Underhill wrote this week in a much-reported ruling related to Title IX.
I am not defending the way schools use Title IX to offer the bare minimum of athletics for girls while pumping thousands or millions (hey, it’s booster money!) into football and other prominent boys’ sports. Insofar as acceptance of cheerleading as a sport means schools will jump to get rid of rid of volleyball teams, that’s a shame. And I still think “cheering” for nobody is weird.
But reporters should spend some time with the volleyball team and with the cheerleading squad to see, and tell readers, if one is noticeably less developed, organized or sport-y than the other.
Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students