Cheerleading is NOW a Competitive High School Sport

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Finally, it’s official!  On Wednesday, October 7, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill (AB) 949 which makes Cheerleading become an official sport.  This will take into effect starting the 2017-2018 school year.  The AB 949 is known as the California High Schools Expanding Equality Respect and Safety Act, otherwise known as the “CHEERS Act”.  AB 949 requires the California Department of Education to develop guidelines, procedures and safety standards with the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) for high school cheerleading in the collaborative manner with which it has developed these guidelines for other CIF sports.  For many cheerleaders and their families, its about time “Cheer” as a sport was recognized.  Today, cheerleading will finally takes its place as a bonafide member of the CIF sports that includes basketball, badminton, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, skiing, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball, water polo, and wrestling.

The CHEERS Act is the first step in having the public recognize the hard work and effort it takes cheerleading athletics to perform their stunts and dance routines.  Cheer is not simply just sideline cheers at a football game, which this is especially true of competitive cheerleading.  AB 949 will allow student cheer athletes to actually earn physical education credits for their competitive cheer activities, which is currently afforded to athletes of other CIF sports.

The bill was co-authored by California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), a former high school and college (Stanford University) cheerleader.  Gonzales is very passionate about the sport as she feels cheer was largely ignored by the CIF and other institutions.  “Cheerleaders are some of California’s best competitive student-athletes, yet they’re performing without the uniform standards for health and safety that other student-athletes receive,” said Gonzalez. “With the CHEERS Act, we can overcome old stereotypes that are risking the health of these young athletes, and catch up to other states who already protect their competitive cheerleaders with safe standards.”

“For two decades, I have been baffled that young women and men cheerleaders in our high schools are denied the right to officially participate in their chosen sport,” said Gonzalez, who has participated in cheerleading as a high school and collegiate-level cheer athlete, a high school cheerleading coach and a parent. “Today, the Governor has ensured these athletes will earn the respect and have the safety standards they deserve. Equity comes in many forms and today it came in recognition that a traditional female activity can also be a sport.”

“I thank the Governor for signing this important measure to address the lack of safeguards in cheerleading that results in too many injuries,” said Lara, a former high school cheerleader. “Don’t let the stereotypes or uniforms fool you – cheerleading is a real sport and deserves the same attention, safety requirements and respect that all other sport teams receive. This is about equity and respect for athletes who engage in some of the most dangerous activities on our school campuses.”

California will join other states – including Michigan, New York, Texas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Alaska, and Virginia – who have recognized cheerleading as an official sports.  Prior to AB 949, high school cheerleading in California was excluded from the formal safety standards and regulations of the California Department of Education, which oversees the CIF.  This is tragic as cheerleading is the cause of approximately 65 percent of all catastrophic sports-related injuries involving high school girl athletes.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were almost 37,000 emergency room visits for cheerleading injuries, an increase of almost 400 percent since 1980.

While many rejoice cheerleading’s CIF designation, many long-time competitive cheer coaches are wary of the changes that will be taking effect in 2017-2018, especially those that may actually be restrictive to the training time cheerleaders will be afforded.  According to Katie Bowers, varsity cheer coach at El Dorado High School in Placentia, “a lot of cheerleading coaches aren’t educated (on official high school athletic policies) and don’t understand the hindrances [of the new law] that puts on us.”  With the CIF now the governing body of cheerleading’s safety and standards, AB 949 could possible govern who can participate and how long they can participate in cheer practices and activities.

Under CIF rules, athletes are limited to 18 hours of practice and play a week, and they cannot participate at all on Sundays.  If the same guidelines apply to cheer, this can be crippling as cheerleaders spend at least 3 to 4 hours a week at football games.  In addition, many cheer competitions occur on Sundays.  If cheer coaches have to pick between competitive practices or cheering on the local high school team, there could possibly be a decline in sideline cheers!  The new rules for competitive cheer are not expected to kick in for at least a year, so the CIF has time to develop standards that may help answer questions for current cheer coaches.


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