Cheerleading a sport? State says yes

Cheerleading is officially a school sport in New York, after the state Board of Regents unanimously voted to follow the recommendation of the P-12 Education Committee.

The 17-0 decision reached last week will give the New York State Public High School Athletic Association an opportunity to regulate the sport under its statewide umbrella.

The association’s director, Robert Zayas, said there are many conversations to hold and logistics to be settled before the first competitive cheering events begin in the 2014-15 winter season.

“With this being so new, I think the implementation period and the timing we provide our schools and coaches is important,” he said. “We need to decide when we will have a true state championship. Is it the 2014-15 school year? We are still in the process of figuring that out.”

He said the association plans to meet with its Cheerleading Committee at the end of the month to review the state’s approval and form a strategy to implement the sport in public schools.

Zayas said the state’s decision will allow the association to create coaching and safety standards, then highlight and promote the athletic ability of participants with a championship event.

“Basically, if you are going to be doing any stunts, you will be classified as a competitive cheer team, and if you are not doing those stunts, then you wouldn’t need to have a certified coach,” Zayas said.

Competitive cheerleading takes numerous athletic skills, including pyramid-building, tossing, partner stunts, lifts, jumps and tumbling. The athleticism of competitive cheerleading requires that coaches are properly trained in stunt spotting and understanding the fundamentals of conditioning, he said.

A competitive cheerleading coach would have to be certified, just like coaches in other sports, Zayas said.

State Education Department documents indicate the lack of formal governance and sport standards for competitive cheerleading has resulted in inconsistent standards of participation and competition. There is no current limit on the length of seasons, time between contests or required practice days.

Zayas said the association has been working on this initiative since 2009.

According to the New York State High School Public High School Athletic Association website, the association in 2009 formed an ad-hoc committee to review all aspects of the activity and how cheerleading would work within the current State Education and athletic association rules and regulations.

In 2013, the association conducted its first competitive cheerleading events with the east and west regional invitational tournaments during the winter season.

Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C., already recognize competitive cheerleading as a sport.

The Broadalbin-Perth Central School District’s competitive cheerleading team has won six championship events this year and is one of the only teams in the immediate area to participate in scored events.

Several of the competitive cheerleaders on the team spoke about what the recognition means to them earlier this week.

“Discrimination has always came along with the sport,” said Junior Brianna Panasiuk. “There has always been stereotypes, so now that we can say we are actually a sport just supports all the hard work we put in during the year.”

“People can’t really judge what we do unless they try it for themselves,” sophomore Chelsea Mckeever said.

Both competitive cheerleading coaches at BP, Courtney Buchanan and Chelsea Poupore, said they appreciate the recognition.

“The fact that we don’t use a ball and are throwing people in the air instead is a huge oversight,” Poupore said. “They are throwing girls that weigh between 100-125 pounds, so throwing that in the air and catching them [at] full force definitely makes it a sport, not to mention the acrobatic aspect of it.”

The district has varsity and junior varsity cheerleading programs. Members of each squad can earn a spot on the competitive team based on ability and dedication.

But the coaches said they are nervous about how the changes at the state level will impact their existing programs.

With regulations on practice hours and potential restrictions on the number of events being set by the state, the coaches said they don’t know whether participants will have to choose just one program.

“I’m excited to see what is going to come from this but very nervous at the same time,” Buchanan said. “I’m not sure how it could change our program in the future. The differentiation between the teams and the potential restrictions could hurt, because we use those girls in our competitions, and we need them to work on the stunting so they can be ready.”

Gloversville Enlarged School District’s Athletic Director Mike DeMagistris said his district has a fall cheerleading squad doing sideline cheers and short dance routines. The winter squad often performs more intricate stunts but doesn’t attend any competitions.

“Once we have more information, we are going to have to sit with our coaches to make the decision whether we want a competitive or sideline team,” DeMagistris said. “Whether we would actually attend cheer competitions has yet to be determined.”

He said he doesn’t know if the district will have to differentiate the two programs and decide if they want a competitive team. He also said the district allows boys to participate, but he doesn’t know how that would affect the program under new state regulations because male athletes aren’t always part of the team.

Zayas said a team with male members would need to be in a separate division than a team of girls.

The Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District’s cheerleading coach, Tiffany Leiphart, said her team just started implementing basic stunts into routines. With the new regulations, she isn’t sure which route the district will take.

“I wasn’t really for it becoming a sport in high school because there are a lot of logistics we have to go through and the sport aspect of it is going to make things a lot more complicated I think,” Leiphart said.

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