Flips and twists, splits and lifts, Bay High School's cheerleading team was hard at work Tuesday preparing for competition season. Their blood, sweat, and tears on the mats earn them the recognition as a sport by the Florida High School Athletics Association. But under the Friday night lights, they're only considered a club.
Coach Misty Wonders said the activity should be labeled a sport across the board.
"It's very dangerous. The fliers, the top girls they're basically trusting their lives in the bottom girls' hands," said Wonders.
Wonders' sentiments echoed a report released Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics which urged parents, coaches, and school officials to give cheerleading programs the same attention and respect as other sports.
Labeling it a sport, according to the report, allows the high-flying athletes proper access to qualified coaches, practice facilities, and athletic trainers. The main argument surrounds the number and severity of injuries sustained by cheerleaders.
"Over the years, hundreds. Neck injuries, a lot of wrist injuries, knee injuries, ankle injuries," said Dr. Mike Noble, a sports physician in Panama City.
Dr. Noble is the first to tell you cheerleading should indeed be a sport, regardless of who you ask, and he said Bay County has treated cheerleaders as athletes for years. But the biggest reason he said it's not that easy everywhere else? Money.
"Who's going to pay for it and if you start label cheerleading a sport, and there's not funding will cheerleading not be available at that school?" asked Noble.
A.A.P. isn't the first to weigh in on the debate and likely won't be the last. In the meantime, Wonders said they're going to continue working just as hard.
"They are definitely athletes," said Wonders.
The American Academy of Pediatrics' report focused on cheerleading at the high school and colegiate levels. The N.C.A.A. is currently reviewing petitions regarding the matter.