NJ Legislators Consider Bill to Make Cheerleading a Sport

By Erin Delmore

They tumble, flip, lift and toss. It’s hard to deny the athleticism in cheerleading. But, is it a sport?

New Jersey legislators are pushing a measure that would officially make high school cheerleading a competitive interscholastic sport — governed by the state athletic association.

But that group isn’t sold on the idea.

“Do we really help the sport by sponsoring it, or would we actually put more obstacles in the way of the schools that already compete or any schools that want to start a cheerleading or spirit team right now?” asked New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Assistant Director Larry White.

The bill would set fixed start and end dates for the season and would limit when coaches can contact members. The NJSIAA would have the final say on where and when teams can compete. And out-of-state travel might be out of the picture.

So some cheerleading advocates — including the New Jersey Cheerleading and Dance Coaches Association — would rather not change the status quo.

“I think that the parents are saying, ‘Oh yeah, they’re athletes, let’s give them all the credit we can.’ But they’re not realizing that the wording of the bill makes their season very short, gives them certain parameters in which they can and cannot do and all that good stuff that they do in the community would go away,” said Marie Pompeo Maffia, former president of the NJCDCA.

Right now, schools manage their cheerleading programs individually. Some are “clubs,” others are called “athletic activities” and a bunch are already “sports” that allow students to earn varsity letters.

The bill also includes safety regulations. Experts say those are top-notch but not necessarily new.

“The safety standards that they bill would impose, they’re already present,” White said.

“On a professional level, if someone wasn’t following those policies, they would be setting themselves up for huge liability issues. So I don’t think there’s an athletic director or athletic supervisor out there that doesn’t follow the policy,” Pompeo Maffia said.

Officials at the NJSIAA say that cheerleading doesn’t need their stamp of approval to be a sport.

“We have two entities here. One, the state Legislature that’s saying we need to do this. Then we have, what I would kind of consider the experts, saying, well we really don’t have to go that way. So we’d have to have a discussion with both groups and hopefully, all three groups would be able to come together with a consensus,” White said.

Both associations say they have not been asked for input on the bill, but want to work with legislators to keep the “spirit” of cheerleading intact — no matter what you call it.