Ryan O’Connor does not think cheerleading should be a sport. As a coach and a former cheerleader herself, she believes it’s something much more than that.
“We are a team,” O’Connor said. “We support other sports, we help fundraising, and go to Kappa [sorority] events. We will never be a sport. We are way bigger than just a sport.”
O’Connor, 27, is from Lexington, Connecticut and eventually moved to Alabama to cheer in college. Her mother was a cheer coach and O’Connor always went to practice with her. Along the way, she began to dream of being a cheerleader.
Achieving her dream took a lot of the free time that she could have spent with her friends, but O’Connor was grateful to have the experience and to be a part of a tight-knit family. Even though she grew up around cheerleading, O’Connor said that she does not think of cheer as a sport according to her definition of sport: “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
“I, as a coach at Ole Miss and a former cheerleader at the University of Alabama, believe cheer is based on teamwork, dedication, performance, community service, games, and social events,” O’Connor said.
Jennifer Thrasher a stunt coordinator at the University of Alabama agrees that her cheerleaders participate in much more than a sport.
“Sports are when they have competition,” Thrasher said. “I believe that my girls do more on the side of organization such as Kappa events, health fundraisers, and just regular games that we cheer on.”
Though there is some disagreement over cheerleading as a sport, some cheerleaders think it is a sport and they should be given credit.
Madison Smith, 14, a current high school student at Germantown High School, recently made the cheer team at her school. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, she has always had a passion for cheer and dance, but not everyone considers those activities sports.
“Our school does not think that cheer is a sport, but – thinking about what cheerleaders do at games, such as breaking a sweat, helping the boys on the court or field keep going – and also competing against the opposing cheer squad,” Smith said. “Cheer is also a sport because it earns you money, gets you scholarships, and can leave you with more fatal injuries than football and basketball players can get”
Those on competitive teams also strongly believe that they should be a sport.
“I believe that cheer should become a sport now that it is popular and has been accepted into the Olympics,” Britten Blackburn, CEO over the American Cheerleading Centers and a USASF Executive Board member, said.
Blackburn believes that cheer should be described as a sport for many reasons.
“Cheerleading is very athletic and is more challenging than gymnastics and any sport that is around,” Blackburn said. “ Right now cheer is looked at as an extracurricular, and with time, I hope people start to accept it as a sport.”