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Debate Over Whether Cheerleading Is A Sport Hits Albany

Cheerleaders from Clarkstown North High School (credit: CBS 2)

Cheerleaders from Clarkstown North High School (credit: CBS 2)

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Cheerleading is no longer just standing on the sidelines shaking pom-poms.

It requires tumbling, aerials, tossing and catching.

But is it a sport?

As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, that debate is bubbling over this week in Albany.

State officials have recommended that competitive high school cheerleading be recognized as an “interscholastic sport.”  The Board of Regents is expected to vote on the proposal Tuesday, following its unanimous approval by a Regents committee Monday. If approved, the recommendation would take effect with the 2014-15 winter season.

Proponents say the designation would make cheerleading safer by requiring certified coaches, trainers and concussion education, for example. Also, there are currently no limits on the length of seasons, time between contests or required practice days.

“This is a great step for the progress of cheerleading, and tomorrow’s vote by the Board of Regents could be historical,” said Robert Zayas, president of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which would implement coaching and safety standards.

On Long Island, the Rocky Point and Mount Sinai school districts have changed their internal rules to designate cheerleading as a sport. The move appears to be paying off, as Rocky Point and Mount Sinai high schools were recently crowned 2014 national cheerleading champions in their respective divisions.

“My cheerleaders are some of my hardest-working athletes in my school,” said Amy Agnesini, Rocky Point athletic director.

“We work as hard as every other sport,” said Samantha Feeney, a cheerleader at Mount Sinai High School. “And we put in more hours than other teams do, and we should just get the same respect.”

New York has been considering classifying cheerleading as an interscholastic sport since 2009. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which represents 783 public and private high schools statewide, says 32 states already recognize competitive cheerleading as a sport.

But some testifying in Albany this week worry that designating it as such in New York could backfire. Official athletes can join one team a season, can’t train together in the summer and can’t leave the state to compete in national tournaments.

“We treat it as a sport here, so if a girl or a boy goes out for a cheerleading team, they cannot play another sport,” Scott Reh, Mount Sinai athletic director said.

“Since it’s not a sport, we can practice as much as we want,” said Mount Sinai cheerleader Amanda Rose, adding her team practices together about 10 months out of the year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is also in Albany testifying that, although the overall injury rate is low — among the safest sports studied — cheerleading injuries are increasing in number and severity nationwide, account for two-thirds of all catastrophic injuries among high school female athletes.

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