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August 17, 2004

Cheerleading: Sport Or Tradition?

FROM THE CONFLUENCE OF GENDER-NEUTRAL COMPETITIVE ENDEAVORS AND NEO-FEMINIST OPPORTUNISM comes a swirling debate over the proprieties popularity and differences between scholastic (traditional rah-rah sideline style) and all-star (competitive, acrobatic, away-from-the-field style) cheering.

Conventional cheerleaders have been as much a part of the tradition of football and basketball as wool uniforms, two-digit scoreboards and leather helmets.
For decades, cheerleaders were generally regarded to be romanticized trophy wives to football and basketball players— conspicuously attractive, pert, vivacious and charming.

Attitudes toward cheerleaders began to change as women redefined many of their traditional roles in the 1970's. Cheerleading became competitive. In the early 1980's ESPN introduced collegiate cheerleading competitions.

This competitive offshoot of cheerleading—known as all-star cheering—has grown rapidly.

Independent all-star cheerleading gyms--private clinics with no school affiliations--train flashy acrobatic teams to compete with other such teams. Nationally, by one recent count, the number of all-star gyms has exploded, to about 2500 from around 200, in the last five years.

Many think that all-star cheering merits its own name. Contending names include acroperformance, acrocheer, cheer stunt and team stunt.

The cheerleading debate has taken on a pivotal role in efforts to achieve Title IX compliance. Along with women’s rowing, ice hockey and equestrian teams, many schools have adeptly added many dozens of all-star cheerleaders as bona fide Title IX female athletes.

The University of Maryland was the first to declare women's competitive cheerleading as a varsity sport. Now dozens of other universities are exploring the possibility of establishing competitive all-star cheerleading.

For all the hype and hoopla surrounding the new form of extreme cheerleading, there is still plenty of affection for the classic cheerleaders on the sidelines. A University of Virginia cheerleader described the thrill of standing alongside the football field, facing a crowd of 60,000 rabid Cavaliers fans. "I start the cheer, the whole crowd follows. That's my thrill."

(this 312 word excerpt—with attendant commentary—was extracted from a 2055 word article in the New York Times of 8-15-04)