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ISSUE 117 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/23/2004

Sports debate lives

By Ken Foote
Sports Editor

Friday, April 23, 2004

In the wake of the University of Marylands decision to make their cheerleading team a varsity sport, it seems appropriate to revive the age-old debate of whether or not cheerleading should even be considered a sport. While the University of Maryland team does compete in the off-season, that does not necessarily make cheerleading a sport.

I am not criticizing the Universitys decision. I think it is great that a group of dedicated individuals, both men and women, will get the funding and status associated with being a varsity organization. However, I hold firm to my belief that cheerleading is not a sport and should be not called one.

The University of Maryland can give any organization varsity status, but that does not make that organization a sport. If they turn around tomorrow and make chess and the math team varsity sports, what happens then?

I know what you are thinking. Youre thinking that I am a sexist sports editor trying to defend the masculine dominance of sports through bashing cheerleading. But before everyone runs to their computer and whips out a stinging email to me or the Messenger staff, please read on.

Cheerleading was first designed as a way to get fans involved at sporting events. Hence the beautiful compound word combining cheer, meaning to encourage or salute, with leader, one who guides or conducts. Thus cheerleading was invented to assist another sport by getting the crowd involved in encouraging the players.

The question is, then, how can this activity be a sport when it cannot exist without another sport? Without other teams to cheer on, the power of cheerleaders is rendered useless, no matter how loud they scream, how well they build a pyramid, or how breathtakingly they execute aerial maneuvers. A sport must be able to exist on its own and not be contingent on some other activity.

Another critical flaw is that there is no competition, at least not during the regular season. The goal of cheerleading is to fire up your team. There is no judge, or scoring system, that says one cheer squad wins, while the other goes home. Competition is necessary for the existence of sport. Men and women take the field, court, arena, parking lot, or whatever, with the intention of winning their match, meet, game, orwell, you get the point.

Now, thanks to the popularity of Bring it On and the national cheerleading competition covered annually on ESPN 2, cheerleading is seen as one big dance routine set to catchy music, featuring flips, throws and handsprings as teams vie for top honors and bragging rights.

This looks alarmingly like a sport. It has all the ingredients a sport needs. The participants must display athletic prowess. There are winners, losers and even (wait for it) judges! The event is even broadcast on the deuce. How am I able to deny this activity its rightful status as a bona fide sport? Simply, I cant.

The event portrayed in everybodys favorite Kirsten Dunst movie this side of Drop Dead Gorgeous is absolutely a sport. The only problem is that it is not cheerleading. More accurately, the sport would be named something like glorified or team gymnastics. Seriously, what are they cheering? The judges? The people in the stands? They are certainly not cheering for a football or basketball team.

If this seems like a petty distinction, so be it. I am simply saying that cheerleading as it was originally created and performed is not a sport. This other form, however, is indisputably a sport, albeit one that requires a new name.

So what is the point of this article? Why have I filled valuable space that could have generated revenue through advertising or delivered tactful opinions about politics and the Iraq situation?

I may be performing a civil service by explaining the origins and evolution of cheerleading and separating a helpful, crowd-boosting activity from a high-energy, high-flying sport. Maybe there will be less confusion about the difference and this senseless argument will come to an end.

I realize this is highly unlikely and probably not even practical to hope for. I am not the first to write about this. I will not be the last. Now, the only question is whether the subject will come up in another article, or in the inbox of my e-mail account.

Sports Editor Ken Foote is a junior from Chicago, Ill. He majors in psychology with an Media Studies concentration.

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