APNewsBreak: USA Cheer, USA Gymnastics have competing plan to make cheer into a college sport

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Groups competing to make cheer a recognized sport

HARTFORD, Conn. — A second organization announced plans Wednesday to create a new sport out of competitive cheerleading in an effort to get competitions recognized by the NCAA.

A week after USA Gymnastics announced it will sanction meets among the six schools that have had varsity competitive cheer teams, a competing plan was introduced by USA Cheer.

The governing body for cheerleading organizations said it is teaming with 15 colleges to create the sport of “stunt.” USA Gymnastics sanctioned events will be called “team acrobatics and tumbling.”

“We’re trying to provide schools with a format that will work at the collegiate level and will help satisfy Title IX for many of the universities,” said Bill Seely, the executive director of USA Cheer. “One of our priorities is to make sure that it does not come at the expense of traditional cheerleading.”

Both efforts stem from a recent federal court ruling in Connecticut that found competitive cheerleading wasn’t established enough to meet the federal gender equity requirements of a Title IX sport.

In ruling that Quinnipiac University could not replace its volleyball team with a competitive cheer squad, Judge Stefan Underhill said competitive cheer lacked standardized rules and a sanctioning body, among other things.

Quinnipiac and five other universities formed the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association and joined with USA Gymnastics to address those concerns.

USA Cheer hopes its involvement will do the same thing for the 15 schools that will compete in “stunt.”

Both groups plan to use similar meet formats, with head-to-head competitions and championships during this school year. Both hope to make a case with the NCAA this spring to become an emerging sport.

The colleges joining the USA Gymnastics model are becoming members of USA Gymnastics and have agreed to adhere to that group’s rules and policies.

“What we are doing is creating a separate sport that is apart from cheerleading, and we’re very excited about that,” said John Blake, the executive director of the NCATA.

Todd Sharp, who coaches the University of Louisville’s spirit program, said his school decided to go with the “stunt” format because it will be run by cheerleading experts, not gymnastics officials.

“There are gymnastics skills in cheerleading, but cheerleading, we’re our own separate entity,” he said. “The skills and the things that you see in cheerleading, you do not see in gymnastics. We’re our own separate entity.”

Previously, competitive cheerleading championships were put on by two private organizations with ties to Varsity Brands Inc., which makes cheerleading apparel and runs camps.

Bill Seely, USA Cheer’s executive director, acknowledges that several Varsity executives sit on his group’s board.

Kimberly Archie, who heads the National Cheer Safety Foundation and supports the USA Gymnastics model, said the USA Cheer move seems to be an attempt by Varsity to maintain control of competitive cheer.

Seely said his organization is not run by Varsity, but said there is nothing wrong with having the company that invented cheerleading competitions be involved.

“They have probably been one of cheerleading’s best friends,” he said.

Both USA Cheer and the NCATA acknowledge that the NCAA is not likely to recognize both “stunt” and team acrobatics and tumbling” as separate sports.

“We hope that we’ll be able to eventually work together and come up with something as a group,” Seely said. “But for now, we’re going forward with stunt.”

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