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Championship Event Could Move Cheerleading Closer To Being Sanctioned Sport

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina high school athletic leaders appear closer to identifying cheerleading as a sport,rather than its current status as an extracurricular activity.

Is cheerleading a sport?YesNo

About 80 squads participated Saturday in the first invitational cheerleading championship put on by the North Carolina High SchoolAthletic Association.

The event at North Carolina State University could be an important step toward sanctioning cheerleading as a sport in thestate.

"Who knows what doors this will open?" said Carolyn Shannonhouse, assistant executive director at the association."Many of the states in our (region) already have competitions. We wanted to offer a top-notch competition for our students."

Supporters say the move would bring recognition for the work that goes into developing a competitive cheerleading squad, and money for uniforms, transportation and equipment.

"By having this, they're saying (cheerleading) is a sport and making it equal with other activities the state is offering," said John Yewcic, the athletic director at West Mecklenburg High School,one of the squads that participated.

If cheerleading becomes a sport, school districts will have to fund the cheerleading squad like any other athletic team. They also may be required to meet academic standards to participate.

In South Carolina, cheerleading has been a competitive sport since 1996. Last year, nearly 4,500 attended the statechampionships, making cheerleading the third most-watched championship in the state after football and basketball.

"It's no longer just the girls in the skirts with the pompoms yelling, `Go! Go! Go!,"' said Gwen Clark, president of the SouthCarolina Cheerleader Coaches Association. "They have taken it to a whole new level."

These days cheerleaders are gymnasts, doing flips, roundoffs and handsprings, she said. They balance each other in complicatedpyramid formations. And they often spend as much time in the weight room as the football team, she said.

Wendy Hope, Cherryville High School's cheerleading coach, said she's happy it's not yet a sanctioned sport in North Carolina.

"If cheerleading were a sport, then they'd have more control over when we practice, how long we practice, when our competitionseason ends and how far we can go to compete," Wendy Hope said. "I don't think we're missing out on anything here."

Hope also questioned the association's motive for starting a championship competition.

"I think they're probably doing it to raise money," she said. "There's a lot of money in cheerleading competitions."

Each cheerleader had to pay $20 to enter Saturday's competition, Hope said. The association also charged an $8 admission.

Still, Hope decided to enter her squad.

"I'm interested to see how this goes," she said. "It's a very, very good turnout for the first year."

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