The debate as to whether cheerleading is a sport is all but answered in the Keller ISD.
The stereotype is often girls with a perky disposition and pom-pons, but over the course of the last several years, cheerleading has required as much stringent technique and ability criteria as gymnastics and football.
Keller athletic director Bob DeJonge has endorsed the transition of cheerleading into the sports domain, rather than considering it an extra-curricular activity.
The four high school cheer coaches in Keller, in fact, report to DeJonge.
One of the big changes involved the tryout process. As of about eight years ago, teams no longer were selected by outside judging panels who evaluated girls during a single tryout session.
Currently, girls and boys are involved in week-long clinics to demonstrate their abilities and technique and are then selected by the team’s coach. The programs have set minimum requirements such as being able to execute a standing back tuck, as well as selected other jumps and tumbling.
“We hired our coaches with the expectations they have the expertise,” DeJonge said.
That concept is no different than the football coaching staff making a determination of the starting lineup based on a player’s ability demonstrated in practices.
“We’ve eliminated outside judges,” DeJonge explained. “The coaches are now able to conduct their own tryouts.”
It was a mindset change, no doubt, for many aspiring cheerleaders and their parents, but the process is now embraced by most all participants.
The tryout process was changed over the course of several years, said Keller head cheer coach Lindsey Ammons.
“We made sure that we transitioned slowly to make sure the athletes and parents were comfortable with the transition,” Ammons said. “The athletes and parents feel more supported, since they are under the athletic department and under the athletic director.”
Other programs across the state have similar reporting structures, with cheerleading organized under either the athletics department or fine arts, and other schools consult with KISD staff as to how to transform their programs accordingly.
Fossil Ridge head coach Hillary White said much of the move under the athletics department is predicated on the need for athletic training and care.
White noted cheerleading is one of the top sports for injuries. Concussions and ankle injuries abound. Baseline concussion testing is done for cheerleaders, just as it is for football players.
The sport is year-round, contributing to the opportunity for injury. “Our sport doesn’t have an off-season,” Ammons said. “Our athletes are now expected to train hard every day.”
“We now have access to athletic trainers and our coaches are all certified for safety and CPR,” White said. Coaches obtain a four-year license with the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators, and subscribe to specific safety precautions and rules.
For instance, White explains, it is illegal for a basket toss to occur on a floor.
The next step is whether the UIL will accept cheerleading as a sport. Those discussions are taking place. Beyond that, the International Olympic Committee is evaluating cheerleading as an Olympic sport, White said.
Of the two types of cheer – Collegiate Cheer and All-Star Cheer – the IOC tends to lean toward the collegiate style, White said.
And, as with most other sports these days, cheerleading is working more closely with club programs, much like soccer, volleyball and basketball.
In addition to Ammons and White, other coaches include Tamara Factor at Central and Jaime Morgan at Timber Creek.