Federal court says cheerleading is not a sport

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Cheerleaders work out at the University of Colorado in 2010.

Cheerleaders work out at the University of Colorado in 2010.

HARTFORD, Conn. — A federal appeals court has ruled that cheerleading is not a sport — or at least that colleges cannot identify it as such.

In a decision released last week, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that competitive cheerleading does not yet meet the standards of a varsity sport under Title IX.

The ruling came as a response to an appeal filed by Quinnipiac University, which was sued by a volleyball coach after it tried to eliminate the program in favor of cheerleading.

“Like the district court, we acknowledge record evidence showing that competitive cheerleading can be physically challenging, requiring competitors to possess ‘strength, agility, and grace,’” the court wrote. “Similarly, we do not foreclose the possibility that the activity, with better organization and defined rules, might someday warrant recognition as a varsity sport.

“But, like the district court, we conclude that the record evidence shows that ‘that time has not yet arrived.’”

The original ruling stated cheerleading did not have the organization, post-season structure or standardized rules required to be considered a varsity sport.

The earlier ruling forced Quinnipiac to keep its volleyball program. Since that ruling, the school decided to keep both volleyball and competitive cheerleading despite the fact that the officials cited budgetary concerns as the primary reason for wanting to cut the volleyball program.

“This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and it’s fitting that this decision underscores its importance,” Jonathan Orleans, who represented the plaintiffs, told the Associated Press. “This is a great victory for Quinnipiac’s female student athletes and for women’s collegiate sports.”

But is it a blow dealt to cheerleading, whose advocates have long argued it is indeed a sport?

Quinnipiac’s competitive cheerleading program has since renamed itself an “acrobatics and tumbling” team, and has joined the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association. This is an apparent effort to help develop cheerleading into a recognized sport by moving the emphasis away from cheering and toward gymnastic maneuvers.

USA Cheer and Varsity Brands Inc., has created a division called STUNT, which has a similar goal in mind.

“Varsity’s motivation continues to be to protect the young people who participate in traditional cheerleading, while also creating an alternative discipline that uses cheerleading skills in a new format that would create a separate sport for Title IX compliance purposes,” Sheila Noone, a spokeswoman for Varsity, told the Associated Press.