When is a sport not a sport?

JC AMBERLYN/Miner -- Cheerleaders at Kingman Academy High.

JC AMBERLYN/Miner -- Cheerleaders at Kingman Academy High.

When U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill ruled that "competitive cheerleading is not an official sport that colleges can use to meet gender-equity requirements," as reported by Pat Eaton-Robb of the Associated Press Wednesday, he defined what constitutes a sport.

"An activity can be considered a sport under Title IX, the 1972 law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women in athletics, if it meets specific criteria," Eaton-Robb said. "It must have coaches, practices, competitions during a defined season and a governing organization. The activity must have competition as its primary goal - not merely the support of other athletic teams."

Underhill was disinclined to say competitive cheerleading was a varsity sport because it resembles boxing. There are several governing bodies such as USA Cheer, Universal Cheerleaders Association and the National Cheerleaders Association. However, not included in this list is the NCAA.

Quinnipiac University, the school involved in the case that the judge ruled on, had organized the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association with seven other schools "to govern and develop competitive cheer as a college sport."

Despite Quinnipiac's efforts, Underhill declared competitive cheer not to be a sport.

"Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX," the judge wrote. "Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students."

Slippery slope

By saying competitive cheerleading is not a sport, but that it could become one, Underhill put the slippery slope into play. If other activities such as chess, robotics or even Texas Hold'em were to organize with the guidelines he specified, would they not, too, have to be considered sport?

This is not to mean that these particular activities mentioned should not be considered sports. It's to underscore that any activity that entails competition and the other requisite items may have to be considered sports. If a culinary team were to have a "season," would we then have to consider cooking a sport?

Cheerleading has always been debated about being a sport, but now that Underhill has made a legal ruling on its status, the activity has a unique opportunity to advance itself.

Cheerleading differences

Cheer squads need to be separated when determining them as sports teams. Sideline cheering should be considered apart from competitive cheer. The sideline cheerleaders are there to entertain the crowd and to motivate their teams. They are not competing during those moments and should not be considered sports teams.

Competitive cheerleaders are different. These teams, with many of the same athletes as the sideline cheer squads, condition to pull off stunts and routines. Competitive cheer needs to be recognized as a sport.

Rather than wait for the college level to get its act together, high school cheerleading teams need to get proactive. The governing bodies that oversee athletics in Arizona need to be pushed so as to help these athletes get recognized at the next level.

Competitive cheer teams could easily put together a "season." Whether it coincides with football or basketball, these teams can compete against each other during halftime. The governing bodies could regulate the judging as is done with football officials and basketball referees.

Won-loss records can be kept, and at the end of the regular season, sectional and state tournament could be held. This would meet the "season" requirement that Underhill expects a sport to meet.

It's a sport

The only reason cheerleading would not be considered a sport is because of its administration. The millions of people involved need to solve that problem and capture cheerleading's proper standing in the sports world.

Some arguments say cheerleading is not a sport because it is dependent upon human judgments. The fact is all sports are determined this way. A football official has to determine if the ball carrier crossed the plane of the goal line, a basketball referee judges whether a shot was a 2- or 3-pointer, and a cheerleading judge will score a team's performance.

Cheerleading is a sport and it needs to be made so legally.