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A federal judge has weighed in on a debate that runs rampant through the halls of many high schools:Is cheerleading a sport? The question presented itself when the Quinnipac University‘s women’s volleyball team sued the school for an alleged violation of Title IX. The university had recently announced it was eliminating the volleyball team and would replace it with a cheerleading squad. In response, a federal judge ruled that competitive cheerleading is not a sport for the purposes of Title IX and ordered the school to keep its women’s volleyball team to maintain compliance with the statute.
The ruling seems “true to the spirit of Title IX,” which seeks to create a fair number of athletic opportunities for women. To ensure that actual athletic opportunities are provided, Title IX outlines specific guidelines for what qualifies as a sport. A team must have coaches, practices, competitions in a defined season, and a governing organization. Furthermore, competition, and not mere support of another team, must be its primary goal. Applying these guidelines, the federal judge found that competitive cheerleading was “too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”
The judge’s ruling has infuriated many cheerleaders, who feel that modern competitive cheerleading goes far beyond pom-poms and megaphones to include clearly athletic gymnastic feats. However, the federal judge did not criticize the athleticism of cheerleaders themselves, but instead cited the current inconsistent and the unregulated status of cheerleading in collegiate environments. Even cheerleading advocates, who cite injury rates and risk as a sign that cheerleading should be considered a “real sport,” admit that the danger arises from a lack of consistent rules and safety regulations due to the disorganized nature of the sport.
While it would be unfortunate if this ruling resulted in colleges dropping their cheerleading programs because they will not serve as a Title IX sport, it would be even more tragic if mere sideline cheerleading took funding that should be creating genuine athletic opportunities for women. Luckily, cheerleading advocates have not responded to the ruling by giving up on cheerleading at the college level. Instead, they are looking for ways to reform the sport so that it is entitled to Title IX recognition. Quinnipac University and several other schools recently formed the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association to govern and regulate the sport. Other advocates remain undeterred from their mission to have the NCAA recognize competitive cheerleading as an emerging sport, which requires ten schools to petition the organization and sponsor teams. NCAA supervision would almost certainly entitle competitive cheerleading, which does far more than just support other athletic teams, to recognition as a sport under Title IX.
– Rachel Purcell
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