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Cheerleading now recognized as official sport for high schools

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High school cheerleaders and their coaches across New York state have likely been doing metaphoric cartwheels, backflips and high-flying stunts as state education officials approved on Tuesday to recognize competitive cheerleading as a sport.

The ruling, which will help improve safety and coaching standards, has been long-anticipated by Copenhagen cheerleading coach Jennifer Spaulding.

“I’m very excited,” Spaulding said. “We have been working as a section for (more than) 20 years to help propel cheerleading as an official sport, so it’s a dream pretty much realized now.”

Spaulding has coached cheerleading at Copenhagen for 21 years. Her teams have garnered 14 Frontier League titles, including nine straight, and eight consecutive Section 3 Class D championships.

“(Tuesday) was a day of redemption,” said Spaulding, who also cheered as a student at Copenhagen during the late 1980s. “For years we’ve been told, ‘It’s not a sport, it’s not a sport, it’s not a sport.’ We’re very fortunate at Copenhagen to have it recognized as a sport, but not every school cheer team is that fortunate.”

Other local schools that regularly produce successful cheerleading teams include Indian River, General Brown, South Jefferson and Sandy Creek.

Indian River won the Section 3 Class A title for the winter cheerleading season, while Sandy Creek captured Class C. South Jefferson placed second in Class B.

New York had been considering whether to recognize cheerleading as an interscholastic sport since 2009. State officials say 34 other states and the District of Columbia already do.

“I don’t think anyone should have to defend their sport like cheerleading has had to defend itself over the last 25-30 years,” Spaulding said.

The state will now require more education for coaches, including safety training.

“The biggest thing is that cheerleading is going to be regulated, which is a wonderful step in the right direction,” Spaulding said.

Teams will likely be allowed to compete more, and there will be more recognition for athletes, including college scholarships for cheerleading.

Spaulding said now cheerleaders who perform well academically can be recognized as scholar athletes.

“It’s a shame, for years I’ve had incredible teams with GPAs that we’re so proud to promote but they can’t get a scholar athlete award at their athletic banquet and be recognized for having a team GPA of 90 or above or an individual GPA, so that’s another wonderful thing,” she said.

The decision will have some impact on school budgets. Costs associated with elevating cheerleading as an official sport will include training and equipment costs to meet the new requirements. Many cheerleading teams do fundraising to cover the costs of uniforms and travel expenses for competitions.

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