Local high schools prepare for the new sport of Competitive Cheerleading

By Jay Seidel
La Habra Journal

As the calendar moves to 2017, high schools are starting the groundwork to prepare for the newest interscholastic sport, competitive cheerleading.LHHS Varsity_Web

The sport becomes official with the 2017-18 school year, but athletic programs will start preparing this spring.

The California Interscholastic Federation, which is the governing body for high school sports, held a meeting with its regions and for high school athletic directors last month to give a timetable and outline the new sport.

Competition Cheer is defined as a sport which teams participate in direct head-to-head competition with one another using an objective scoring system.

CIF and the California Department of Education are developing guidelines for these competitions and will need to have guidelines in place by July 1, 2017. Sonra Cheer_web

The guidelines, procedures and safety standards will be in line with other interscholastic sports within the state.

CIF has been working with the Department of Education as well as the high school cheerleading community and the NCAA cheerleading leadership as they have previously established safety standards and policies.

They will also create the championship bracketing system for the sport as well.
The CIF Southern Section, which has 583 schools, requires that at least 117 schools, or 20 percent, play the sport before it becomes a section championship event.
According to CIF, in the 2015-16 school year, there were 9,401 students participating in competitive cheerleading (8,846 females and 561 males)
Competitive cheerleading is different than what CIF designates as Sideline cheerleading. What most people are familiar with is the Sideline cheerleading at most of the school’s sporting events. These are the cheerleaders that help inspire school spirit ad motivate the crowds during games.

CIF indicates that there are approximately 25,021 sideline cheerleaders in the state.  Further, CIF deems that this is not a sport and not designated as interscholastic competition. WCHS Cheer Team Picture

Competitve Cheerleading includes performance of a standard two to three minute athletic routine in a head-to-head scoring format.

Many high school cheer teams are looking forward to the new sport designation and have been preparing their competitive teams.

“I’m hoping this will put a new light on cheer, not just to other kids at La Habra High School, but to adults in our community as well,”said Allison Marisy, cheer coach at La Habra High School. “We already have a competition team set up and are practicing so we will be ready to take the mat in January.”

Cheer teams have been competing  in this type of competition for years.  The CIF regulation will now make it an officially sanctioned interscholastic sport.

“We have a group of 20 amazing girls who put in blood, sweat, tears, and endless hours to bring La Habra’s name back onto the competition mat,” Marisy said.

Sonora cheer has been competing for years at national competitions and the current cheerleaders  are looking forward to CIF recognizing what they are doing as an official sport.

Whittier Christian has also already had a competitive cheer team.

“We have had competitive cheer for many years at WCHS,” said Rolland Esslinger, athletic director at Whittier Christian. “We will pursue that with the new CIF oversight.”
This oversight will include certification for coaches, increased safety equipment, medical screenings and trainers on hand.  Further, the cheer athletes will be required to meet all academic standards set forth by CIF.

Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 949, introduced by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), to classify competition cheer as a CIF sport beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

This is one of the first times that the state legislature and governor acted to create a statewide interscholastic sport.

“The CIF is excited to add competitive cheer to our sports offerings,” stated Roger Blake, Executive Director of the CIF. “We look forward to working with the California Department of Education to develop policy and standards allowing the student-athletes involved in competitive cheer to enjoy greater opportunities to display their athletic talents in a safe environment.”

Blake added that one of the major goals in the process will be to “develop guidelines for competitive cheer programs that our member schools can implement, meet the standards and be compliant with Title IX as defined by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.”

In accordance with the bill, the CIF shall seek a United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Title IX compliance designation for competition cheer.

Competition cheer will not be counted towards a school’s Title IX compliance unless the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights deems competition cheer compliant with its definition of a sport.

Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.

In the November meeting CIF officials stated their objectives as pertaining to spirit and cheer programs: ensure coaches have best training and safety education available and that cheer programs have the opportunity for participation and recognition for their roles.
They want to create opportunities, competitive experience and keep event expense for schools minimal.

Marisy added that they are looking forward to the opportunity to have full mats and equipment for the cheerleaders.

“Our number one goal for this team is to keep them safe at all times,” she added.
Bylaws, policies and regulations  to fulfill obligations under AB949  will be established by CIF by the July 1, 2017 deadline.

Until then, the cheer teams will continue to compete as they have been doing, but for the last time as an unofficial sport.

“It’s really encouraging to see it become an official CIF sport,” said La Habra Senior Captain Madeline Arnold. “We’re really excited to start competing and can’t wait to see how cheer will improve in the years to come.”

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.