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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Dobie: Cheerleading finally makes the cut

The Garden City High School cheerleading squad gets

The Garden City High School cheerleading squad gets the crowd warmed up during their football team's Nassau title game at Hofstra University. (Nov. 22, 2013) Credit: JC Cherubini

So, cheerleading is now a sport in the state of New York.

I'm all for increasing opportunities for disadvantaged groups, and there's no question girls and women were disadvantaged for years in sports. Fewer resources, less attention, poorer equipment and facilities, fewer college athletic scholarships. Lots of girls and women and their supporters fought lots of fights to level the playing field vis-à-vis their male counterparts. And the struggle continues.

And yet I find myself trying to wrap my mind around the vote by the state Board of Regents to make cheerleading, you know, a sport.

Yes, I understand we're talking about competitive cheerleading, which is quite athletic and a lot more like gymnastics than a sidelines spirit squad. And 34 other states already have said it's a sport.

But here's where I'm coming from. I have three daughters, all of whom played junior high and varsity sports, as well as for outside teams. I eagerly coached them when they were young and proudly watched them when they were older.

I also was a sports reporter for years, writing about everything from high school games to the Olympics to women's sports issues. I covered the famous Title IX hearings in Washington and San Diego in 2002-03, when the federal Office of Civil Rights was examining the standards that determine whether schools are complying with the federal statute banning discrimination by gender. Back then, women's sports advocates argued that colleges could not count cheerleading scholarships as athletic scholarships to prove they were providing sports opportunities for women.

And now this.

I'm aware I'm climbing the slippery slope of what constitutes a sport. Many have tried to define it, in many ways.

Hemingway is said to have declared -- though the attribution probably is erroneous -- that there are only three sports: auto racing, mountain climbing and bullfighting. As if torturing a bull is sport.

Tug-of-war once was an Olympic sport. As was rope climbing. But I digress.

Some say it's a sport if they keep score. Like in gin rummy.

For me, it's a matter of opinion. Literally. The more opinion is involved, the less it is a sport. Gymnastics, figure skating and diving are at the interpretive end of this spectrum. The competitors are athletic, have great skills, train hard and suffer injuries. Their events often are gripping to watch -- and a bunch of opinions decides who wins. Just like competitive cheerleading.

And just like ballroom dancing, another physical endeavor with sport-like qualities. But is anyone prepared to argue that ballroom dancing is a sport? What's that, you say? The International Olympic Committee has accepted it as a sport, though one not -- yet -- allowed into the Olympics? Oops.

In the end, we're too far down opinion road to keep competitive cheerleading out of the sports club. But let's make sure it's run like a sport, and that it meets Title IX requirements. That means it needs to be conducted like other varsity sports and needs to have, among other things, a full competitive schedule with a postseason, equal access to practice facilities, quality coaching and equivalent resources.

That would be something worth cheering about.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.