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Cheerleading is now a sport in Texas

This is a real thing.

Cheerleading will finally get its tryout from the University Interscholastic League.

After a hearty debate and a failed first vote, the UIL Legislative Council approved a one-year pilot program to hold a league-sanctioned cheerleading competition for the 2015-16 school year.

Crowning state champions in each of the state’s six classifications, the “Game Day Cheer” competition will be the first cheerleading event in the league’s history.

“As big as cheerleading is in Texas, I feel like a lot of people will gravitate to this,” Highland Park cheerleading coach Jason McMahan said. “Not only because it’s new, but also because it gives them an opportunity to showcase their athletes and their abilities vs. just their home crowd seeing them on the sidelines.”

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Passage of the proposal wasn’t easy.

After squeaking through the UIL’s Standing Committee on Policy on Tuesday, the concept faced similar skepticism and criticism from many on the full council on Wednesday.

Normally, the league moves at a glacial level, with a proposal waiting six months between approval from a subcommittee to a final vote. The cheerleading concept, however, was fast-tracked — with league staff asking for its approval less than a day after moving out of committee, in an attempt to get the event launched for the upcoming school year.

Many of the 32-member council didn’t like the speed of that process, with only seven members — including Duncanville ISD Superintendent Alfred Ray and Katy ISD’s Alton Frailey — initially voting in favor of the pilot program.

“The main reason that I can support this is that we can keep our kids involved and we can keep them safe,” said Frailey, the former DeSoto superintendent.

Richardson ISD Superintendent Kay Waggoner originally voted against the proposal, concerned with the readiness of districts to pay for additional expenses and provide oversight to another activity.

Only when implementation of the pilot was pushed back to the 2015-16 school year did the program gain approval.

“I think the folks around this table were concerned on how it would affect their budget on such short notice, and how it might affect their student body because of other activities that they’ve signed up for,” Breithaupt said. “To give more detail as we move forward, so that they can share it with people they represent, I think that’s fair.”

An earlier story has some of the background on this.

“It’s a controversial topic — it just is,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said. “I’m just interested in doing what’s best for an activity that’s kind of been ignored, to be honest with you. Give them a state championship for all the things that they do.”

Game Day Cheer would differ from a competitive cheerleading event, Breithaupt said. The elements of the UIL contest would mimick what cheerleaders do during a pep rally or on the sidelines, without the high-flying tosses and difficult gymnastics found in competitive cheer.

In a 2012-13 National Federation of State High School Associations survey, 32 states held girls’ “competitive spirit squad” competitions, with 116,508 students participating nationwide, the ninth-most popular girls’ athletic activity.

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Bringing cheerleading under the umbrella of the UIL has gained momentum over the last 18 months. In a letter to the UIL in January 2012, the Texas Medical Association asked the league for oversight of cheerleading, saying it would “be a bold move to ensure we have a state system focused on injury prevention under consistent, evidence-based safety guidelines.” As a result, the league’s medical advisory committee recommended in April 2013 that cheerleading be included in the list of activities that abide by the UIL’s safety and health regulations.

A former football coach and athletic director, Breithaupt said his opinion evolved from that point.

“If we are going to make them comply with all the other standards, to me it just makes sense,” Breithaupt said. “It’d be like, for example, if we said, ‘OK, we don’t sanction lacrosse, but we are going to require you to follow all of our rules.’”

You may be shaking your head about this, but the UIL is just following the official recommendation of the American Medical Association.

The American Medical Association adopted a policy declaring cheerleading a sport at its annual meetings Monday, weighing in on a long-lasting debate with a solid reason in mind: giving cheerleading “sport” status at high schools across the country would make it safer by increasing training and safety measures to protect its participants.

Cheerleading, according to the AMA and other independent researchers, is the leader in catastrophic injuries in female athletes, and considering it a sport would help increase training and awareness among coaches, parents, and cheerleaders themselves, the AMA said.

“These girls are flipping 10, 20 feet in the air,” Dr. Samantha Rosman said at the meeting, according to the Associated Press. “We need to stand up for what is right for our patients and demand they get the same protection as their football colleagues.”

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The American Academy of Pediatrics designated cheerleading a sport two years ago, and 35 states and Washington D.C. have declared it a sport at the high school level. The AMA policy means that it will push remaining states and sports bodies to adopt the designation.

You can now add Texas to the list of adopters. As that article above noted, concussions are a big issue in cheerleading, and unlike in other sports, the risk is even higher in practice than at games. One of the effects of the UIL declaring it a sport is that practices can now be regulated in the same way as other sports. Hopefully, that will help reduce the injury risk.

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