They train, sweat, perform under pressure and do so under the most adverse or agreeable of moments. They must be enrolled as a student and agree to commit to the team for a season of athletics that outruns all other sports. When the going gets tough, the call of duty requires them to get tougher and then motivate everyone around them to do the same.
What sport would require such dedication to a team? The answer is, there is no such sport. At least, no one considers cheerleading a sport.
Cheerleading is considered a club or organization and is overseen by the head of the intramural department, under the direction of head coach Lavonne Norman.
Norman leads a team that is not labeled a sport, nor has it ever been.
“It should be a sport,” she said. “The team must be athletic in order to fulfill their duties as a cheerleader. The athletes' abilities are the same, and much of the time even more developed, than any other sport. They have incredible muscle strength, aerobic endurance, and mental strength.”
Norman's main goal as a coach is to provide all the athletes with several key principles used on the squad, and then apply them to life.
“As a member, you are a part of a working team,” she said. “It is necessary to develop strong social skills, interpersonal skills, and communication skills.
We work together overcoming challenges as a working unit. The athletes develop from a squad of individuals to a squad as a team.”
Norman does not coach the squad for the recognition. She became involved with cheerleading 13 years ago when she coached junior varsity and varsity high school squads. Five years ago, she became the assistant coach of the University of Alaska Anchorage team, and this year she became the head coach.
Norman said, “I wanted to continue on because I love the sport of cheerleading. The intrinsic rewards of seeing squad members develop in all aspects of their life makes it worthwhile.”
Aside from the commitment to the team, there are other requirements that the coach demands. Squad members must follow university guidelines for sports and be enrolled in at least three credits at UAA. Members must also receive a minimum of a 2.0 GPA in all classes in order to remain on the squad.
Associated Director of Athletics DeDe Allen, said that the university requirements to participate in any sport are dictated by UAA's rules, adopted from the National Collegiate Athletic Association official rules and regulations.
“The NCAA rules decide what rules will be included in the institutional guidelines,” said Allen. “The student athlete must be enrolled in a full course of studies and enrolled in a four-year baccalaureate program in order to be eligible to participate. Our institutional guidelines state that a student must also have at least a 2.0 GPA.”
Once the student is eligible, there must be an activity in which to participate. In order for there to be a sport at an institution, there must be sponsorship for that particular sport. The Board of Regent's policy dictates what sports will be offered here at UAA as well as UAF and all other University of Alaska institutions.
“There must be similar sports for competitive purposes, and we must be geographically consistent,” said Allen. “For example, football would be difficult here because of the weather, unless we had a major indoor facility. Things like that help decide what sports we'll have.”
Many people remember a day when UAA had a competitive swimming team. Over the years, support of the team grew weaker until the chancellor was charged to evaluate the sponsorship of the sport. At that time, the chancellor decided that it would be in the best interest of the sport to go in front of the Inter-Collegiate Athletic Board to determine if swimming was in the best interest to remain at the university. The board denied sponsorship of the swim team, and decided to sponsor the women's cross-country running team instead.
The board is made up of about 10-12 members, consisting predominantly of faculty. There are, however, university student representatives, alumni, and student athletes that are also members.
The board takes many factors into consideration when reviewing a sponsorship, all of which are NCAA rules and regulations.
The Inter-Collegiate Athletic Board has the ability to create a brand new sport or to take an old one out of existence. Its key consideration is support held by the NCAA.
“In order for there to be a sport's sponsorship, it must be an intercollegiate sport,” Allen said. “Cheerleading is not considered an NCAA intercollegiate sport, so UAA cannot consider it a sport.”
Rabinovitch is a member of the UAA Cheerleading Squad.