Editorial: Cheerleading named a sport. It’s about time

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Southold cheerleaders perform during a basketball game this past winter. (Credit: Garret Meade)

Is cheerleading a sport?

That debate has raged in the greater sports community for decades. 

Some would argue that cheerleading is merely an athletic activity. While there are interscholastic competitions for cheerleaders, the public most often just thinks of them as standing on the sidelines in support of their schools’ football and basketball teams.

But cheerleaders and their advocates contend it is a sport — one that’s growing more popular as it becomes more physically challenging and the risk of injury increases.

This week, The New York State Board of Regents now finally agreed by approving a measure that classifies cheerleading as an interscholastic sport across the state. It’s about time.

The proposal was first presented to the Board of Regents five years ago. In 2012, the movement gained the support of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which argued that any activity involving 15-foot-high human pyramids and teenagers being tossed in the air should be subject to the same safety rules and supervision required of other recognized sports, a list that ranges from the physically brutal worlds of football and wrestling to softer games like golf and badminton.

A study released in 2012 by the AAP showed that significantly more than half the catastrophic injuries in college and high school female sports occurred in cheerleading.

Ensuring these athletes’ safety should be of paramount concern to our high school athletic organizations.

Locally, the greatest impact of this week’s decision will be the new competitive opportunities it will present for cheerleaders across the North Fork.

Historically, area cheer squads have had to enter costly regional and national competitions hosted by a wide range of organizations. In some cases, individual athletes have to spend their own money to join all-star teams for any chance to compete.

The Board of Regents’ decision paves the way for Section XI and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association to host local competitions for cheerleading teams similar to events already enjoyed by athletes in other sports, many of which have lower student participation numbers. We hope this decision will give even more student athletes a chance to participate in this positive activity, which encourages physical fitness among our youth.

Cheerleading may not be a game, but it is a sport — one that produces some of today’s most dedicated high school athletes.