Which team at the University of Kentucky has won more national championships than any other? The answer is the cheerleading team, and it’s not even close. The squad has won 16 national titles since 1985. Since 1995, the team has won 14 championships and finished 2nd another 3 times, meaning they have been a Top 2 national squard every year since 1995. It’s an amazing streak, and I think the UK fanbase really respects and loves the team.
But, the question was bounced around the sports office yesterday about whether or not you consider the cheerleaders a SPORTS team. It was a split room, comprised of mostly men and 2 women. Those in favor of cheerleading as a sport point to the skill and athleticism of the squads, plus the national competitions that take place. Those against argue that the main point of cheerleaders is simply to rouse a crowd and not compete, plus many of the things they do is not athletic, but simply cheering. The argument got passionate, and for once in my life, I tried to stay un-opinionated.
But, let’s look at it rationally. Wikipedia describes cheerleading as:
“Cheerleading is a physical activity, sometimes a competitive sport, based on organized routines, usually ranging from one to three minutes, which contain the components of tumbling, dance, jumps, cheers, and stunting to direct spectators of events to cheer on sports teams at games or to participate in competitions.”
OK, so that definition was neutral. It calls it an activity, but then states it is sometimes competitive. My initial thought was that a sport should be a sport AT ALL TIMES. Every time I step on the golf course or basketball court, I am playing a sport. Cheerleading is only a sport at times. That raised a red flag in my mind. But again, I couldn’t get past the elite level of athleticism used in their routines, even if the routines and competition are just 25% of a cheerleaders responsibilities.
But then, on that same wikipedia page, it states that cheerleading was actually started as an all-male activity to try and organize crowds in cheer. Now it certainly has changed over the last 100 years, with halftime routines and more high action stunts. But, I wonder if some of our common sports were ever actually started as something that wasn’t a sport. Swimming might be the only one I can think of quickly.
But I will tell you what finally pushed me towards my final opinion. The UK Athletics website does not list cheerleading under its sports category. Instead, it lists cheerleading under the “TRADITIONS” category. Why did UK do this? I would guess its because cheerleading is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport. In fact, there are tons of stories on the website about different competitions the cheer squad has been involved with. But, if they are truly a sport, why not list them as such. Even if the NCAA doesn’t sanction it, do they have power over the athletic website? I don’t think so.
Let me say this: Cheerleading at the UK level is an unbelievably elite skill. They do things that I would be terrified to attempt, much less accomplish. And they certainly have become as much of the basketball program as Rupp Arena. Plus, all those titles are nice to brag about. I give them tons and tons of credit. In much of the same way a cheerleader can not dunk a basketball, a UK basketball player can not do the tumbling routines that cheerleaders do.
That being said, I have to lean towards the side of non-sport. It was not meant to be a sport, and despite the fact their are competitions now, that is not the MAIN job of a cheerleader. The main job of a cheerleader is doing something that is not a sport, and that is organizing cheers for the crowd and getting the fans pumped. And like I said earlier, if the UK website doesn’t list it as a sport, I don’t know how I can. For those who disagree, talk me off my opinion. This is one of those I don’t feel strongly on, so I can be convinced. Have at it.