Definition of sports may differ



Many cheerleaders deal with claims that say their sport is not real and is often upsetting for them.

Nick Chernisky, Staff Writer

There has been an ongoing debate in the U.S. as to whether or not activities like cheer and dance are considered sports. Like other sports, they have practices and tournaments and are supported by the Virginia High School Sports League (VHSL). That may sound like the end of it, but even still some believe these to not be sports.

“Dance is possibly one of the hardest things to do in reference to sports,” Julie Barlund said. Barlund is a senior and has been dancing for 14 years. She is also a varsity dancer and has been since her freshman year.

“We compete and practice and it takes a lot of skill and physical exertion like any other sport,” senior and varsity cheerleader Alex Reaves said.

The current Oxford College Dictionary definition of a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. Activities such as cheer and dance fit these characteristics. From a competitive perspective, activities like cheer and dance put in just as much effort as other sports.

“We dance 15 hours a week give or take, and that’s not accounting for dance studio hours too,” Barlund said.

The efforts of cheer are not widely understood. Though it may look like they only cheer on the sidelines of football games, there’s more that goes into it. Just like baseball or football they have after school practices as a team and have competitions with other cheer teams. These competitions involve complex routines with athletic efforts shown through their flexibility and strength, not to mention there can be people thrown in the air whilst spinning. 

“A lot of people only think we cheer on the sideline (of football games),” Reaves said. “In reality, we’re working hard after school every day. Competing against other teams and placing top two in district, region and state, all while managing events for the school, it’s a lot.”

Dance competitions are structured the same. Dance teams or individuals practice and perform a routine to a song and then perform it for a panel of judges to be scored and whoever has the best score wins.

Both Barlund and Reaves said that they get teased “all the time!” by those who don’t consider what they do to be a sport.

The sports in question have predominantly female participants. According to a 2018 report done by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, women made up over 75% of cheerleaders. The disparity for dancers is also similar. According to Data USA, women make up about 79.6% of dancers. But then that raises questions about other sports like gymnastics which is also majority female.

“A lot of it also stems from misogyny,” Reaves said “A lot of people view the sport [cheer] as girly.”

In most sports, competitions are scored objectively. For example, in basketball one team attempts to score in the other teams hoop while they try to stop them. This format is copied and repeated in various forms across many sports, but not in cheer or dance. In these activities, those participating are graded based on the difficulty and artistry of their performance. This could be another reason as to why someone may not think fondly of these activities.

“The point is to make it look effortless because it’s an art,” Barlund said.

It’s not just cheer and dance in question. In Ultimate Frisbee, one team attempts to pass the frisbee up the field in order to reach the other team’s end. If they do they receive a point and the frisbee is given to the other team. Its layout is almost identical to that of soccer, football and basketball. The only difference is that this activity doesn’t use a ball.

Sports like basketball and soccer are so common that most people can understand the effort that goes into them. Activities like dance and cheer don’t exactly get the same treatment because they aren’t as popular.

“It’s frustrating because we really put in so much work,” Reaves said. “It’s hard when everyone’s trying to discredit that.”