Ready, OK – is cheerleading really a sport? | TheUnion.com
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Ready, OK – is cheerleading really a sport?

Sitting at the fair last week, I had time to ponder some of life’s mysteries. About an hour into my first shift at one of The Union’s booths, I was tackling some big questions, like, why does coffee taste so good in the morning and why am I so cranky without it, and, is cheerleading really a sport?

Oops – there goes the can of worms. I should know better; I’ve done this before.

The reason this question popped into my head was that I was sitting at Gate 3 at the fairgrounds with a group of young ladies from Nevada Union – cheerleaders, one and all.



They were talking about a lot of things – as girls often do: boys, clothes, going to the river and cheerleading practices. It was all very interesting and it got me thinking about the practice part. That led me back to the simmering debate about whether or not cheerleading is a sport.

Let me say, quite firmly that my answer is – “uh, sort of, maybe, I guess.”




You see – I’m conflicted. Up in Oregon, where I used to cover sports, cheerleading is definitely a sport. It’s officially recognized and they even have state championships.

But can you really argue for it as a sport?

Yeah, you can – if you go by Webster’s definition, which tells us:

sport n. 1 any activity or experience that gives enjoyment or recreation; pastime; diversion 2 such an activity , esp. when competitive, requiring more or less vigorous bodily exertion and carried on, sometimes as a profession, according to some traditional form or set of rules, whether outdoors, as football, golf, etc., or indoors, as basketball, bowling, etc. …

But, I don’t think that fully covers it. The thing is, cheerleading is supposed to be just that – leading cheers. Football wouldn’t be the same without cheerleaders on the sidelines, but the game would still go on. People would still cheer at basketball games, it just wouldn’t be as fun. Through it all cheerleading is supposed to play a supporting role for these sports.

Somehow that’s all changed. There seems to be a lot more cheerperforming these days. I miss the old days with more cheering and less stunts, but I have to admit I’m pretty impressed with some of the things they do.

Cheerleaders are a lot more athletic than they used to be. The pyramids they build are bigger and more complex than ever; they do all sorts of moves at the high school level that used to be seen only on collegiate squads, and they compete in national competitions.

Laugh if you want to, but it’s tough work being a cheerleader. Long practices and long nights on the sidelines can be pretty taxing. It’s not just making signs and baking cookies anymore.

Cheerleaders are athletes; I won’t argue that. But, I’m not totally convinced about cheerleading being a sport. Maybe it’s getting there – but it’s not there quite yet.

I’m not sure that all cheerleaders are convinced either. My sister-in-law was a cheerleader for an NBA team and she never claimed it as a sport.

She did let people know that it wasn’t easy work, though.

Maybe that’s what’s important anyway – not whether or not cheering is a sport, but that those doing it work hard and deserve some credit for that.

Shawn Swillinger is sports editor at The Union. He can be reached by E-mail at


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