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McGair: Cheerleading faces murky future as varsity sport

March 20, 2012

Sports writer Brendan McGair shares what happened during Monday's meeting of the Principals Committee on Athletics.

Five years have passed since the R.I. Interscholastic League recognized cheerleading as a full-fledged varsity sport. Time will tell if such a distinction remains in place moving forward.
At Monday’s meeting of the Principals Committee on Athletics, the status of cheerleading was vehemently discussed regarding concerns initiated by Ted Quigley, the athletic director at La Salle Academy and head of the competition cheerleading committee. Quigley approached the PCOA with the idea of forming a specific committee made up of cheerleading coaches and school administrators to look at whether cheerleading “is a viable sport.”
“It’s a sport that’s been run by the coaches,” Quigley said, “and it can’t stay as it is.”
The basis of Quigley’s rationale has nothing to do with cheerleading itself. He made that abundantly clear upon declaring that “cheerleaders work very hard.” The concerns stem from the ever-changing culture surrounding the cheer landscape – specifically the length of the season relating to when it begins and ends.
Just like all the sports recognized by the RIIL, cheerleaders participate in a regular season before moving on to the postseason. Yet with so many squads holding in-season invitational tournaments that include fellow in-state participants, Quigley noted that now appears as good a time as any to “look at the structure.”
Cheerleading in the Ocean State has also reached a fork in the road due to the advancement of “Stunt,” a competition sport that is seeking to become recognized by the NCAA. The new format was unveiled as a 2011 spring sport with 21 universities signing up and participating. According to the College Stunt Association’s website, USA Cheer, the national governing body for all forms of cheerleading, developed “Stunt” to meet the NCAA standards of a sport in compliance for Title IX’s requirements for intercollegiate athletics.
Like basketball, “Stunt” features timeouts and substitutions along with tactical elements generally witnessed during gymnastics and cheerleading meets. In a release that appeared on in August 2011, the organization is “watching for continued growth and development in a new sport.” If the expansion of “Stunt” continues along the college circuit, such a movement figures to have a rippling effect at the high school level, as Quigley mentioned.
RIIL executive director Tom Mezzanotte took the occasion to note his observations of competitive cheerleading since the move of taking the activity and recognizing it as a sport. While he noted the routines from the teams and individuals that are showcased during the state meets are “incredible,” Mezzanotte pointed out that he’s noticed fewer and fewer squads showing up at athletic events, specifically during the postseason for boys’ basketball.
The reason some cheerleading teams have avoided the basketball playoffs is two-fold. For starters, the postseason for cheerleaders runs parallel with the second season for hoops, with some cheer squads adopting the mindset that it’s more important to iron out the routine rather than offer support to the boys while also entertaining the crowd.
The second point comes from Mezzanotte, who cited the uncalled-for behavior of fans during playoff games held at CCRI-Warwick a few years back. Whenever a cheerleading squad stepped on the court to perform a routine during a timeout or halftime, supporters of the opposing team would take the occasion to “ridicule.” In that respect, Mezzanotte doesn’t blame the cheerleaders from staying away.
Mezzanotte stressed that the Interscholastic League, “is not an activity association. We are a sport association.” To that end, he along with the other members of the PCOA feel that by analyzing the status of cheerleading after five years is something that needs to take place.
– In other matters Monday, the PCOA approved two-year realignments in both girls’ volleyball and girls’ soccer that will take effect this fall. Under the recommendation of former Central Falls athletic director Kathy Luther, who is also the head of the girls’ volleyball committee, the creation of a third division was ratified unanimously.
In girls’ soccer, the big news is that Tolman and Woonsocket are dropping down to Division III after struggling mightily the past two seasons in Div. II. (The Tigers compiled a 7-26-3 league record over that span while the Villa Novans went 2-34.)
The girls’ soccer committee also saw the approval of its request to reduce the number of league games in Division I and II to 14. The top 12 teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs.
With an uneven number of teams in Division III-A as opposed to III-B – III-A teams will play each other twice for a total of 14 games while those housed in III-B will play 16 games – the playoff criteria calls for every team in III-A to automatically make the playoffs with the top four teams in III-B triggering an invite.
Tolman, Woonsocket and St. Raphael reside on the III-A side of the ledger while Shea, Davies Tech and Bishop Keough are in III-B.
– In response to lengthening the periods in Division III boys’ hockey from 12 to 15 minutes, the PCOA voted 8-2 to overturn the decision it originally voted on during the previous committee meeting in January by going back to 12-minute periods.
Cranston athletic director Mike Traficante expressed his concerns of bumping up the minutes in a division featuring many struggling teams in terms of getting quality numbers in a letter to Mezzanotte. That prompted the league to poll Division III coaches where the overwhelming response called to leave the period length to 12 minutes.
– The RIIL wants to remind teams currently under co-op management (two or more schools joining forces) that they must re-apply in order to seek approval for the 2012-13 academic year.
– The request made by Mount St. Charles assistant girls’ volleyball coach Paul Gould to coach daughter Carissa in said sport during the school year was once again on the table, this time the PCOA granting approval. Back in January the motion was unanimously voted down with Paul Gould responding with additional information to better aid in his quest to have the matter revisited and overturned.
The PCOA stressed that specific language pertaining to this matter be drafted in time for the next meeting in June.
– The PCOA approved an increase for adults purchasing playoff tickets at all events from $7 to $8.

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