November 1, 2006 - Throughout last week, a debate raged through the EXPLORER newsroom. The topic concerned neither troops in Iraq, the state Senate race between Jim Pederson and Jon Kyl, nor pine tar on a pitching hand.

Instead the issue back flipping, somersaulting and firing up the newsroom throughout the week concerned the ladies that fire up our athletes.

Should cheerleading be considered a sport?

The core of the debate is whether cheerleading is a sport or an activity. To some, the French club or debate team is an activity. Others believe that a lack of direct competition doesn't qualify cheerleading as a sport.

Both the Arizona Interscholastic Association and the National Federation of High Schools treat cheerleading, or spirit line, as a sport - albeit the AIA, which lists its sanctioned sports online in alphabetical order, bucks that trend and places spirit on the bottom of team pages, below volleyball and wrestling.

Not surprisingly, many people who reject cheerleading as a sport are men. What is surprising is that argument's share of female supporters. Among them was a prominent multiple-sport senior athlete at Canyon Del Oro High School who asked not to be identified. Her answer was a curt: "No, it's not a sport" citing the lack of bodily contact as her argument.

It should be pointed out that there are 53 cheerleaders at CDO, a number that is about half that of the football program.

It should also be taken into consideration that we live in an age where fishing is considered a sport. What's the danger in fishing? Sunburn?

How many times has someone from the French club or chess team been admitted to the hospital with a head wound? The Official Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that almost 209,000 cheerleaders were treated in hospital emergency rooms last year. Most of those injuries (37 percent) were leg-related, while 18 percent of those injuries involved the head or neck.

Conversely, the National estimates that 63 percent of mild traumatic brain injuries suffered by high school athletes occur in football.

Instead of debating if cheerleading is a sport, perhaps it's time we flipped the question around and ask 'why isn't cheerleading a sport?' Let's put the onus on the naysayer to prove otherwise.

After all, there are just as many cheer camps, leagues and girls taking part in their chosen sport as there are in football. If anything, cheerleading is just as cutthroat. For an example of the madness surrounding cheerleading you have to look no further than the state of Texas, home of Wanda Holloway, the cheerleading mother who tried to hire a hit man to take out a rival of her daughter.

Of course, that has no place in sports, even if you're comparing cheerleading moms to ice hockey dads. But chalk that up to pure fanaticism. The argument here is whether cheerleading is a sport and whether or not cheerleaders are athletes.

The Marana Broncos' cheerleaders recently shocked the Tucson Youth Football and Spirit Association by winning the citywide Punt, Pass and Kick competition in the 11-13-age category. Their efforts - to the chagrin of the boys - earned them a trip to Arizona Stadium and a spot on the field at halftime of a University of Arizona football game.

"They were crying," said Brianna Bunch, a former cheerleader and current assistant coach of the YMCA's D.A.R.E cheerleading program, of the boys.

How's that for athleticism?

The debate of whether or not cheerleading is a sport is a far-ranging topic and one that occupies more than a million web sites. Every voice should be heard, after all, isn't this a cheer-ocracy in which we live?

What do you think, should cheerleaders be considered athletes? E-mail me and I'll write about this again in a few weeks.

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