Samantha Salek, Sonoma Valley High School senior


Cheerleading is not a sport. At least, that is, according to a federal judge who ruled in July on the matter. But is the issue really that simple?
Quinnipiac University, a private college in Hamden, Conn., was put at the center of this bitter debate when several players on the women’s volleyball team and their coach sued when they learned that the team was to be replaced by a cheer squad due to budget cuts.
Quinnipiac reasoned that by cutting the volleyball team, it could cut costs and potentially broaden the college’s appeal with the new cheer squad. The volleyball team, however, reasoned that they were protected under Title IX, and it was unlawful for the school to replace their team with cheer, which they argued was not a sport under the statute. The judge agreed.
The judge’s ruling states, “I conclude, as a matter of law, that Quinnipiac discriminated on the basis of sex during the 2009-10 academic year by failing to provide equal athletic participation opportunities for women. Specifically, I hold that the university’s competitive cheerleading team does not qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX and, therefore, its members may not be counted as athletic participants under the statute.”
Title IX is a section of a federal education law passed in 1972. This law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Now, before you jump into this debate arguing about the athleticism and skill required to participate in competitive cheer, know that the issue at hand isn’t really whether competitive cheer is an athletic pursuit (or really even whether it is a sport), but rather whether it is in compliance with the qualifications that Title IX uses to outline what a “sport” is.
Before the ruling, there was no official post-season play in varsity competitive cheerleading and there was no mechanism among varsity competitive cheer teams to determine a national champion. These, among other factors, are requirements that Title IX puts into place for an activity to qualify as a sport.
In addition, there also is the fact that there are a total of only seven Division I level universities that have varsity competitive cheer squads in the country right now and those teams are, therefore, forced to compete with high school opponents, non-D1 schools and club teams.
There is no doubt cheerleading requires a great deal of athleticism and training. It also has a high potential for serious injury among its participants.
The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina released a report that states that cheer accounts for 65 percent of all catastrophic injuries in girls’ high school athletics. It has therefore been called “the most dangerous sport for girls.”
Cheerleading is an incredibly physically demanding activity, but as a varsity collegiate sport, it also is underdeveloped.
It has been argued that Title IX is too strict in its definition of a “sport” or even that Title IX has overstepped its intended purpose and begun to hurt the same people it was supposed to help.
The fact of the matter is Title IX is still necessary to ensure the equal treatment of male and female students. As long as the necessity of this law remains, and as long as Title IX is the only law that addresses equal treatment of men and women in school athletics, it also is the law that must be used to determine which activities qualify as varsity sports.
Under this law, the judge was completely justified in his decision to uphold the claims in the volleyball team’s lawsuit.
While it is frustrating this ruling has discredited the seven Division I competitive cheer squads that do exist, the ruling left room for re-evaluation.
The ruling states, “Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX; today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”
So, in short, the way to get competitive cheerleading recognized as a sport again is to build up a league and organize it as well as other Title IX recognized athletic event.
It may seem unfair to cheerleaders, but the judge ruled in accordance with the written law. For now, competitive cheerleaders seem to be athletes without a sport to play but hopefully that will change in the near future.

Reprinted from Sonoma Valley High School’s Dragon’s Tale newspaper.