By: Alexandra Araya-Lillo
In recent years, there has been debate over whether or not cheerleading, a female-dominated pursuit, is a sport. It is patronizing for cheerleaders’ merits to be questioned in this way when they spend hours perfecting their stunts only to be discredited by people who don’t see their passion worthy of validation.
This stigma exists, in part, because some believe that cheerleading is easy. Cheerleaders are often recognized for their appearance, rather than their skills. Their hard work gets overlooked, and they don’t receive the recognition for their dedication to the sport.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a sport as “a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job.”
The NCAA, however, defines a sport as “an institutional activity, sponsored at the varsity or club level, involving physical exertion for the purpose of competition against teams or individuals within an intercollegiate competition structure.”
Cheerleading competitions are held all across the country. Our very own Oyster Bay High School Varsity Cheerleading team has competed in Nationals hosted at Disney World, a prime example of the competition necessary for sport, as mentioned in NCAA’s official definition. The team also competes with other varsity-level teams on a more local level.
When competing in cheer competitions, team members perform skills that are evaluated based on level of difficulty and execution. During Nationals, the Oyster Bay Varsity Cheer “hit zero,” which means their routine had zero deductions. Their stunts were perfectly done and all their hard work was rewarded. This scoring system is just one component of the competition structure that is also used in intercollegiate competition.
Cheerleading holds the second highest rate of catastrophic injuries in school sport, according to The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. Yet, the debate surrounding if cheerleading is a sport continues to leave us divided.
Cheerleading came second to Football, a very well-respected sport that has been around for centuries.Well-known for the risk of physical injury involved, football is the only sport that competes with Cheerleading in terms of injuries, supporting the idea that cheerleading involves significant physical exertion.
Recently, Netflix released a hit cheerleading docu-series, called Cheer. In this series, viewers follow Monica Aldama and her team of college athletes. Throughout the series, it is evident that cheerleading is a strenuous sport, requiring a great deal of strength and athleticism.
For example, the viewers experience pain that Morgan Siminaner faced when she endured rib problems while practicing for competition. Despite the pain and discomfort, Morgan received treatments between practices and continued to train in order to remain in the routine. This is just a glimpse of what cheerleaders endure within their sport. To have their work disputed is affront to the hard work of all cheerleaders.
Cheerleading meets all criteria established according to both Merriam Webster and NCAA’s definition of a sport, and should be recognized as such. Cheerleaders deserve recognition for their commitment to their sport even when faced with ridicule. The cheerleading industry is only becoming more competitive and demanding of its participants, who continue to persevere, despite the negative stigma.
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