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April 07, 2004

Cheerleading: Title IX End-Around Or Legit Sport?

FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND comes a report of ingenuity and imagination in dealing with Title IX dictates.

Other schools in the same dilemma (with the number of female athletes underrepresented relative to the total student body) have resorted to cutting men’s sports—usually wrestling, track, golf and cross country—while adding women’s sports—usually bowling, synchronized swimming, crew, equestrian and rugby.

This year Maryland became the first school in the nation to designate cheerleading as a varsity sport.

90% of Maryland’s cheerleaders are on athletic scholarships, and they are separate from the squad of conventional cheerleaders that is on the sidelines of football and basketball games.

Lura Fleece, Maryland's cheerleader coach, says "People have to get past the idea that cheerleading is shaking pompoms and kicking your legs in the air. We're athletes and now we compete. Just because cheerleading is all female and we're not mimicking some recognized men's sport, that means we're not a sport?"

Other schools have definitely taken notice. More than 50 schools have contacted Fleece for information on the cheerleading squad.

Much of the controversy centers around the debate whether cheerleading should be considered a sport. While cheerleading’s historic role might not have been particularly athletic, some of today’s participants are as much gymnasts and acrobats as anything else.

According to the national federation of high schools, cheerleading is one of the top ten girls sports in high schools in the number of participants.

Maryland AD Debbie Yow is a supporter. She says, “If bowling can be an NCAA sport, then competitive cheer has a chance to be one, too.”

But perception is everything. As Coach Fleece says, “People say we're cheerleaders and everyone thinks of the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders. That's the problem. It would be a whole lot easier if we were just called something else."

(this 303 word excerpt was distilled from a 1612 word article in the New York Times of 4-4-04)