Cheerleaders miffed at judge's opinion of them

Staff WriterAugust 2, 2010 

Ready! OK!

Is cheerleading a sport, yes or no, a Connecticut judge has told us so!

N-O! N-O!

Last month, a federal judge in the Constitution State said Quinnipiac University could not drop the women's volleyball team and replace it with competitive cheerleading to fulfill Title IX requirements, because cheerleading is not a varsity sport.

The decision isn't sitting well with area cheerleaders, particularly N.C. State University's team, which is ranked eighth in the country.

"If you look at what we do, it's hard not to categorize us as a sport," said Harold Trammel, NCSU's cheerleading coach and a former NCSU cheerleader. "It takes a lot of athletic ability to do what we do."

The decision does not affect NCSU because the school does not use cheerleading to satisfy Title IX, the federal law that requires men and women be given equal opportunities in intercollegiate athletics, and squad members' scholarships are privately funded.

Even so, the decision strikes at an age-old question: Are cheerleaders athletes or just spirited people?

The skill level has increased dramatically for cheering in the last decade, Trammel said. His co-ed team of 67 has 20 men, most of whom played football or wrestled but decided not to play those sports at college.

"The era of girls just holding pompoms and holding megaphones is over," he said.

Cheerleaders work just as hard as any athlete, said Kaylee Allen, a senior member of the NCSU squad from Ramseur.

"We compete to win a title, and all other sports compete for a title as well," she said.

Neither the NCAA nor the N.C. High School Athletic Association considers cheerleading a sport.

"None of our members have voted to make it a sport," said Carolyn Shannonhouse, assistant commissioner with the N.C. High School Athletic Association. "We view it as more of way to support the school."

Jennifer Royer, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis-based NCAA, which oversees college sports, said cheerleading is not on the NCAA's list of emerging women's sports, which includes rugby, sand volleyball and squash.

That list, Royer said, is intended to help schools provide more opportunities for women. For a sport to make the list, 10 schools must sign a petition, and then a certain number of schools must offer it. Recently women's equestrian and bowling graduated from the list to become recognized as NCAA sports.

Lynn Bushnell, Quinnipiac's vice president for public affairs, told the Hartford Courant in a statement that "we will continue to press for competitive cheer to become an officially recognized varsity sport in the future."

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill acknowledged that "competitive cheer" may qualify as a sport under Title IX in the future. "Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students," Underhill wrote.

A cheerleader's view

The judge is misinformed, says Whitney Rigsbee of Raleigh, who cheered for Appalachian State University from 2004 to 2008.

"We are very organized," Rigsbee said. "We have coaches and trainers."

She thinks policy makers should revisit Title IX, which was implemented in 1972 to make colleges provide equal educational opportunities for women and then amended in 1974 to include sports.

"I understand gender equality; everyone has to be equal," Rigsbee said. "But I don't think it should be the sole purpose" for colleges to offer certain competitive sports in favor of others to balance the numbers.

Amanda Ross-Edwards, a professor at NCSU who teaches a public policy and sports class, said that if you look at the definition of sport - being competitive, physical and organized - then cheerleading is one.

The court case's location may have affected the outcome, Ross-Edwards said

"Had this been in Texas or North Carolina, I think the decision would have been different," she said.

Ross-Edwards said she thinks the case may motivate cheering organizations to take the steps to make it a sport.

As for Title IX, Ross-Edwards does not think it's obsolete. After all, without the law, what's to stop a school from pouring all of its money into the men's football and basketball programs, which tend to be the money-makers.

Ross-Edwards said the problem lies not with the law itself but with the fact that each presidential administration offers a different interpretation.

"The way it's interpreted in administrations and making it about numbers, we're losing what it was intended to do," she said. "It's meant to ensure equal opportunities for women, not to create opportunities for women."

leah.friedman@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4546

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