Will Competitive Cheerleading Become the Next NCAA-Sanctioned Sport?

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STUNT competition

What do you get when you remove pompons, sidelines, megaphones and actual cheering from cheerleading? A new type of stunt and acrobatic hybrid that could become the next collegiate sport.

Now, before you jump to the conclusion that cheerleading in any form is not or could never be a sport, consider this: Can you toss someone your size in the air and catch her with ease? Can you tumble like a gymnast or balance gracefully (and with a smile) on one leg, 10-feet above ground? Do you train like a runner, but have the strength of a football player?

A competitive cheerleader can do all this and more, which has prompted the NCAA to consider two variances of cheerleading for “emerging sport” status — a move that will not only legitimize the athleticism that is required for certain aspects of cheerleading, but also help universities comply with Title IX, the federal law that bans gender discrimination at educational institutions.

(PHOTOS: A brief history of cheerleading)

While cheerleading’s traditional roots are seeded in “cheering” for other sports teams, such as football or basketball, the cheerleading hybrids that have been proposed for NCAA status are purely competitive — no megaphones, poms or “crowd-leading” here — yet both are uniquely different and are effectively competing against each other for the same goal: to become a legitimate sport.

One group, the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association, is comprised of teams from six well-known universities, including the University of Maryland and Quinnipiac University, and has been hosting competitive “acrobatics and tumbling” meets for the past few years. These competitions are sanctioned by USA Gymnastics, include six events each and are judged on a standardized scoring system.

(MORE: Why making cheerleading a sport will cure Title IX woes)

The other group, USA Cheer, has created STUNT, which focuses on the athletic components of cheerleading — partner stunts, pyramids, basket tosses, jumps and tumbling. Each event consists of four quarters, with teams competing head-to-head on a standardized scoring system that focuses on evaluating a squad’s execution of predetermined skills. STUNT also consists of a set season, with eight regulation “games” and a championship tournament hosted in April.

If one of these acrobatic sports are given “emerging sport” status, it would not only allow these athletes to receive the same benefits as other athletes on college campuses, but will also change the face of women’s sports forever.

As TIME writer Sean Gregory recently pointed out, it’s time to let go of the stereotype of cheerleaders in short skirts and ponytails and recognize the athletic, academic and financial opportunities that participation in competitive cheerleading (or any variance of such) can offer young, female athletes and their universities. (via New York Times)

(LIST: See the top 10 women’s sports pioneers)

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