What exactly qualifies an activity as a sport? The Oxford Dictionary defines a sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
The debate on what constitutes a sport has recently been reignited with the rise in popularity of televised non-traditional sporting events, like esports and poker. The popularity of these events has forced many people to reconsider how they define a sport.
However, for some sports, this debate isn’t new.
Over the years, cheerleading has struggled to gain the recognition that other sports have gained, often being overlooked when it comes to receiving funding and praise.
This especially rings true on Wilkes’ campus, where the cheerleading team has recently been fighting to be recognized as an athletic team.
The logic behind this push is simple: The cheerleaders engage in a physical activity designed to entertain. In addition, the cheerleaders represent Wilkes and provide spirit at a myriad of Colonel athletic events.
Not being recognized as an athletic team has negative consequences on the team, and its effects have noticeably been felt throughout the years.
“We have struggled to even get the university to recognize they have a cheerleading team,” said senior captain Erin Green. “We are trying to grow and better this program, but the school makes it difficult when they push us to the back-burner.”
The cheerleading team argues that without the support of the school, the team will remain stagnant and will be unable to grow properly. The Colonels believe they have difficulty recruiting and attracting incoming first-year students due to their lack of an official athletic status.
Wilkes University Director of Athletics Addy Malatesta and Associate Athletic Director Phil Wingert did not respond to a request for comment by the production deadline.
“It’s pretty disheartening when we work hard to achieve things and it goes unnoticed,” reflected senior Macy Phillips.
Current students who may be interested in joining the team might not know how to tryout or join, due to the lack of information available on the team on any of the University’s athletic websites.
“I know for me, personally, when I was looking into joining the squad my freshman year, it was so hard to find,” explained Phillips. “I looked around for a long time. I tried looking into it before I graduated high school and couldn’t find any updated information on the team. During visits to the school, I asked several people about it and no one could give me an answer.”
The opposition argues that cheerleading isn’t officially recognized as an NCAA sport, and lacks a national championship in all three of its divisions. Wilkes has struggled to find reasons to fund the cheerleading team in the same manner as an athletic team, mostly because by NCAA definition, the activity is not a sport.
Cheerleading, with the purpose of invigorating a crowd and supporting a team, is known as sideline cheer rather than competitive cheer. Some people, including the NCAA, believe that sideline cheer should not be deemed a sport since the team is not directly competing with another, but instead supporting other athletes. As a result, this may be an issue that needs to be dealt with at the NCAA level, rather than at an individual institution.
However, that doesn’t mean that the cheerleading team isn’t negatively impacted.
Growth isn’t the only problem associated with not being recognized as an official athletic team, as several athletic amenities are off-limits to cheerleaders.
For example, the team has had issues in the past securing new uniforms.
Typically, Wilkes athletic teams receive new uniforms every three years, but the cheer team has gone over twice as long without new uniforms in the past.
“Up until last year, we were using uniforms that were at least 7 years old or more, which can be very difficult when it comes time to fitting girls into uniforms,” said Green.
The cheerleading team’s status also negatively affected their recent coaching search.
Athletic teams usually fill coaching vacancies relatively quickly, and teams rarely practice without a coaching vacancy being filled. However, since the cheerleading team is not officially recognized as a Wilkes athletic team, the coaching search took longer than usual.
“I spent the rest of my sophomore year, during basketball season, trying to keep together the small amount of girls we had left on the team after our coach had quit,” explained Green. “We didn’t receive a new coach until the following school year. I think this could have been resolved a lot quicker had we been recognized by the athletic department.”
Other areas might be affected by the team’s lack of an official status, including access to athletic trainers, facilities and transportation. A team that isn’t officially recognized may not have the same access to important resources that are needed for the team to function smoothly.
“I think the biggest negative impact would be the fact that we are unable to utilize the athletic trainer,” explained Phillips. “Only recognized teams can use the trainer. This is a huge disadvantage to us because if one of our members gets hurt during practice or during a game, there’s really nothing we can do about it.”
This can present plenty of challenges for the team, as many of the stunts they perform are dangerous.
“Cheerleading may not be as physically heavy-hitting as football, but we take just as many risks,” argued Phillips. “We hold girls many feet in the air and for more demanding stunts, twisting or flipping. A fall from something of that height can cause some serious damage.”
The cheerleading team believes that Wilkes still has the power to fix many of the problems that have arisen with the team over the years.
On the other hand, the NCAA does not recognize cheerleading as an official sport and holds no championship competitions for the activity, meaning the issue may be completely out of Wilkes’ hands.
It remains to be seen whether or not the university will make any changes relating to the issue, even if the NCAA remains firm in their stance.