Talent, skill, spirit yes, but not a sport

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By BRAD SPENCER

"We don't play on a field and we don't play on a court, but the IHSA has sanctioned cheerleading as a sport! So, here we go Huskies here we go! Here we go Huskies here we go!

"Two-four-six-eight we are cheering our way to State!"

High school cheerleading is now considered a sport, according to the Illinois High School Association which sanctioned it as such before the 2005-06 school year. There will be a State Meet in March and I can honesty write, I'm not in the least bit interested.

But I'm no dumb-dumb either (not today, anyway). I've dissed high school cheerleaders in the past. It's not something I recommend. They can be quite nasty when you allude to the possibility that what they do is nothing more than a song and dance routine. They gather in droves, write nasty letters with headlines such as "Bring It On" and they call you things like "insensitive" and "immature." Then they form a wolf pack and show up at your place of employment, frothing at the mouth for vengeance. You whisper to the receptionist on the phone to tell them you're not in, and then cower under your desk until nightfall when a police escort can be acquired.

Now high school governing bodies have declared cheerleaders athletes. Well, I've really never had a problem with that distinction. Cheerleaders have been athletes for a long time. They train and practice physically and mentally for their trade. They most certainly are athletes. Anyone who physically trains, practices and devotes their mental capacity for the purpose of competition is in fact an athlete. But cheerleading as a competitive sport at the high school level or any level is frivolous. We've got legitimate sports out there yet to be sanctioned by the IHSA (field hockey, hockey) where athletes compete for the sole purpose of an unbiased victory. With cheerleading, judges decide who wins and who loses. A cheerleader isn't going to out cheer an opponent until she's consumed by fatigue. Let's be honest, dancing is difficult?#34;My moves make a monkey look like a young Travolta?#34;but is the art of dance and spirit and cheer relevant to sports?

The answer to the question is only when the crowd in the stadium has fallen to a slumber. Cheerleaders ignite the hype, raz the slugs, entertain the crowd during intermission, and they do a fantastic job. They are athletes, but cheerleading should not be considered a sport no more than members of a marching band should be considered athletes. (Oh dear God, I just envisioned my head being smashed between two crash cymbals. Note to self: Be on the lookout for rabid trumpet players!)

ESPN, who regularly televises cheerleading competitions, ranked cheerleading 52nd on its list of most difficult sports. The ranking was out of 60 sports (fishing was last). The sports station did give cheerleading a 7.50 in flexibility, but a 2.25 in aptitude.

If I were rating cheerleading, the aptitude would be up around 9.5. Dance intensely in the hot sun, spin around in the air and land in the arms of your trusted teammates, climb the human pyramid with utter precision, and synchronize, synchronize, synchronize! It all takes skill and talent.

You're athletes cheerleaders, and I respect what you do. But what you do isn't a sport.

And yes, I'm writing this from under my desk.

Contact: Bspencer***wjinc.com

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