Written by Corbett Smith
UIL Legislative Council: Texas high school cheerleading may become an official sport
AUSTIN — Can Texas high school cheerleading get a “Y,” an “E” and an “A”?
The University Interscholastic League’s Legislative Council will vote today on whether to approve a one-year pilot program for a “Game Day Cheer” competition.
If approved by the council, it would be the first league-run cheerleading competition in the UIL’s 91-year history.
“It’s a controversial topic — it just is,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said. “I’m just interested in doing what’s best for an activity that’s kind of been ignored, to be honest with you. Give them a state championship for all the things that they do.”
Game Day Cheer would differ from a competitive cheerleading event, Breithaupt said. The elements of the UIL contest would mimick what cheerleaders do during a pep rally or on the sidelines, without the high-flying tosses and difficult gymnastics found in competitive cheer.
In a 2012-13 National Federation of State High School Associations survey, 32 states held girls’ “competitive spirit squad” competitions, with 116,508 students participating nationwide, the ninth-most popular girls’ athletic activity.
Breithaupt passionately pitched the concept to the UIL policy committee, which approved it on a narrow 4-3 vote after the committee chair, Cy-Fair Independent School District Superintendent Mark Henry, voted in favor of the pilot program. Getting past the policy committee is an interim step in getting activities approved by the UIL. On Tuesday, a proposal to add bowling was dismissed outright and water polo was sent back to the league’s staff for more study.
Given the state’s budget cutbacks in recent years, the Legislative Council has been wary of adding any events. Some committee members expressed doubts on the abbreviated timeline; normally such a proposal would have to wait until the next meeting, in October, to be approved. They also worried that adding a pilot program was tacitly approving a new activity, with the pilot potentially becoming so popular that it wouldn’t be allowed to expire.
“I see it being a monster, and I don’t mean that in the wrong way,” Henry said.
Breithaupt said he understood the concerns, but that the league was compelled to press forward.
“There are a lot of implications there, and maybe we are rushing this a bit,” he said. “So we’ll see. It’ll be a good dialogue tomorrow, a good debate.”
Bringing cheerleading under the umbrella of the UIL has gained momentum over the last 18 months. In a letter to the UIL in January 2012, the Texas Medical Association asked the league for oversight of cheerleading, saying it would “be a bold move to ensure we have a state system focused on injury prevention under consistent, evidence-based safety guidelines.” As a result, the league’s medical advisory committee recommended in April 2013 that cheerleading be included in the list of activities that abide by the UIL’s safety and health regulations.
A former football coach and athletic director, Breithaupt said his opinion evolved from that point.
“If we are going to make them comply with all the other standards, to me it just makes sense,” Breithaupt said. “It’d be like, for example, if we said, ‘OK, we don’t sanction lacrosse, but we are going to require you to follow all of our rules.’”
During the committee meeting, Breithaupt said a four-day competition for all classifications — tentatively planned for January in San Antonio — would draw an estimated 600 to 700 teams. Caveats were added to the proposal’s passage out of the policy committee, requiring Legislative Council approval to continue the program past the 2014-15 school year, if deemed successful.