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Three cheers: Cheerleading finally designated a sport

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Shelter Island High School cheerleaders with the varsity boys basketball team during this year's historic season season.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Shelter Island High School cheerleaders with the varsity boys basketball team during this year’s historic season.

It started five years ago.

The New York State Board of Regents had reached a milestone: there was a proposal before them on declaring cheerleading an interscholastic sport. Although it gained the support of many organizations right off the bat, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, it took years to get a final unanimous vote — 17-0 — from the Regents last month.

New York is now the 33rd state to declare cheerleading as a sport. Collecting numerous titles such as “spirit squad” and “athletic activity,” many have always believed that cheerleading should simply be called “a sport,” recognizing the effort and physical demands that it entails.

Now, cheerleading will be officially regulated by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association in the same manner as any other sport.

Cheering on the sidelines at games will not drastically change under the new ruling. However, the Regents decision will allow teams to attend competitions without having to pay out of pocket. Moreover, coaches will now have to be certified and equipment will be supplied to programs by the schools.

Cheerleading at Shelter Island High School will become a sport if and when the team is ready to go to competitions rather than simply cheer at games, said Rick Osmer, athletic director at Shelter Island High School.

It is good and necessary,” that cheerleading has finally been acknowledged as a sport, Mr. Osmer said, “although students at Shelter Island have always been recognized as participating in a sport when given senior recognition in cheerleading.”

Katherine Garrison feels vindicated that the new designation means cheerleading is finally being recognized as something more than just pretty faces on the sidelines. Coach of the Shelter Island Cheerleading Club for the past year, Ms. Garrison, who also works at the library, said, “I made an effort to bring pride and dignity to the girls,”

She added that she taught the girls in the club more than just cheering, but schooled them on the games they cheered for, such as terms and plays for football and basketball so the girls knew what they were cheering about.

Community participation is also an essential responsibility Ms. Garrison imparts to her squad. “I took the girls Christmas Caroling,” she said. “It was very important to show the community that we are more than just a club.”

A native of Dothan, Alabama, Ms. Garrison has deep connections to the Island.  She’s had five children go through school here, one of which, Olivia, was on the cheerleading squad this past year as well as the basketball and field hockey teams.

Growing up, Katherine was a part of a very competitive cheerleading squad. She noted that tryouts would start with a large number of girls, such as twenty or thirty, where only five or ten would be given a spot on the squad.

This winnowing out process became part of the winning argument on whether or not cheerleading is a sport, since most squads have more competitive tryouts than, for example, soccer or track and field. Furthermore, the flexibility and skill required doing moves such as tumbling, pyramids and tosses are very demanding.

“People will respect us more and take us more seriously. Maybe more girls will want to join,” said sophomore cheerleader Elizabeth Dunning, who is looking forward to next season.

She wanted to be a cheerleader because, “I love basketball but I’m bad at playing it and I wanted to support the team.”

Elizabeth is  also hoping that if the school recognizes cheerleading as a sport, the squad will get better, more updated uniforms – a straight skirt vs. the pleated skirts they have now.

For many cheer squads, it will now be the highest priority to show their communities that they have earned the title of an official sport and that they have been stuck in the dark for far too long.

Ms. Garrison said she and her team would have to increase their commitment in order to move forward and attend competitions.

But they’ll finally be supported by their school and will be able to train more intensely to compete against other squads.