Regents give preliminary OK to cheerleading as interscholastic sport

Members of the Rocky Point High School medium

Members of the Rocky Point High School medium varsity squad celebrate after their routine at the Long Island Cheerleading Championship Tournament at Hauppauge High School on Feb. 2, 2013. (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

Cheerleading is a step closer to becoming an interscholastic sport in public schools across New York, with the state Board of Regents' preliminary approval Monday of the change in status.

The purpose is to ensure student safety and the proper training of coaches. Cheerleading has grown increasingly competitive in recent years, with acrobatic techniques such as pyramids and tosses posing a greater risk of injury.

If adopted by the board Tuesday, competitive cheerleading would become an interscholastic sport in the winter of 2014-15.

The proposal was initially presented to the Department of Education in early 2009 by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and the New York State Council of School Superintendents Athletics Advisory Committee, state records show.

If classified as an interscholastic sport, competitive cheerleading would include teams "performing various athletic activities, including stunts, pyramids and/or tosses, jumps and tumbling, under the direct supervision of a properly certified coach."

The Regents, by approving the proposal, will recommend that "all coaches/advisers of competitive cheerleading be required to complete the same coaching requirements, including all safety provisions, as all interscholastic sports recognized in department guidelines."

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia recognize competitive cheerleading as a sport, according to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

"For the sport of cheerleading, it means that our association will now have the ability to implement coaching certification and safety standards for cheer coaches -- and, more importantly, highlight and promote the student athletes who participate in this sport," said Robert Zayas, the association's executive director.

Zayas said it is "exciting to have an initiative that was created by the membership become a reality."

Cheerleading coaches would be required to learn coaching philosophy, first-aid training and complete safety courses, he said.

Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, Long Island's representative on the board, said cheerleading "is probably more rigorous" than many other sports.

"At a time when schools are being forced to give up physical education, music, art, social studies and foreign language, it's nice to see schools putting an emphasis on something that includes intense physical activity," he said.

Some Long Island athletic directors said cheerleading already is treated as a sport in their districts.

"For the amount of time and hard work and preparation that goes into it, I think it should be declared a sport," Mount Sinai athletic director Scott Reh said.

His district has recognized cheerleading as one of its 12 sports on the middle school, junior varsity and varsity level for about seven years. Coaches, as in other recognized sports, are paid stipends, and cheerleaders are awarded letters for the season, Reh said.

In February, the Mount Sinai high school team won the Universal Cheerleaders Association national championship in its division -- large varsity Division II. It was the school's first national title.

Samantha Melella, coach of the 29-member team, said Monday that cheerleading's status as an interscholastic sport could bring about rules changes that may be restrictive, such as capping the number of participants.

"Their main goal is to be on the mat," Melella said of squad members.

Rocky Point athletic director Amy Agnesini said cheerleading "deserves the respect that other sports get."

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