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Ottawa Cheer and Dance Transitions to a Recognized Sport

By Julia Gormley
On March 5, 2018

Photo by: Julia Gormley

Declared so by the KCAC and NAIA, the debate is finally over. Cheerleading is in fact a sport. Although listed under athletics, OU Cheer and Dance teams experienced the transition from being an activity, to now becoming a sport.

“We have been in discussion for multiple years. When the KCAC was able to garner enough teams for a sport, they partnered with the NAIA. With the caveat that they will still be able to participate in NCA/NDA nationals in Daytona Beach,” says Tom Taldo, Dean of Student Affairs.

Along with the transition comes changes in regulation, eligibility, and competition.

“I think it was a good move to be in athletics. It’s where we feel at home, and where we fit in, whether it’s a sport or not. We loved our student affairs family, but their jobs don’t have to do with athletes. We are around programs now that have similar structures. I do like the recognition that it’s bringing to our athletes. We have always had very skilled and smart athletes. They now can be recognized like other KCAC athletes and teams. We did it for our kids,” says Shayla Siebenthall, Head Coach.

Regulating the new sport has proven to be difficult. The KCAC and NAIA are the first in the world to declare cheer as a sport. With this, cheer is not like any other sport, so it cannot follow the same rules and regulations.

“[As an activity] There’s a lot less regulations, as far as competitions, eligibility, who can compete and for how long. It also goes against the 24-week rule and all those restrictions. As an activity, we are cheerleaders but there is more freedom to do what’s best from the program,” says Coach Siebenthall.

Eligibility is another factor that was not as impactful before being declared a sport. This has in turn, changed the coaches’ recruitment tactics.

“Freshmen and transfers have to meet eligibility. There is eligibility through NCA, but it’s more about student full time status and being enrolled in a certain amount of classes. So, recruiting as a sport is hard because they can still go to another school where it’s not a sport and participate with the same grades. Whereas a student with bad grades being recruited for basketball will redshirt any school they go to. No kid wants to be told that they won’t be on the competition floor,” says Coach Siebenthall.

Competition is the biggest aspect that has changed for the team. Prior to being a sport, coaches could make the decision to utilize the skills of the whole team. Due to the different score sheets, coaches no longer have that option, as their skills must be of majority. This means that the majority of the athletes on the competition mat must be able to execute.

“The number one thing that changes about competition is we have less on the mat than ever before, for multiple reason. One being eligibility, and two, being the fact that we are trying to max out NAIA score sheets, so we must have majority skills. We can only take the top academic and varsity kids,” says Coach Siebenthall.

Cheering all four years, Calle Sprew, senior, has experienced the team as an activity, and now, as a sport. To Callee, the biggest changes regarding competition is the team’s notoriety. 

“Every time I would talk to anyone about nationals they would just assume that we just get to go. From the outside eye, it appears as though we don’t have to work for it. So with the competitions, people see our progress. We can say we are good all we want, but unless we have trophies and titles to prove it, it’s just talk,” says Sprew.

Whether cheer is titled a sport or not, the athletes on the Ottawa University cheer squad are just that, athletes, and deserve to be treated as so.

“We are deserving of our new status. We have to pay athletic fees, do all the screenings, we do compete and it is a craft. It is difficult, people don’t have to think it is, so we deserve just as much recognition as any other sport. We definitely deserve the title we have now,” says Sprew.

OU Cheer captured a KCAC championship with seven student-athletes earning All-KCAC honors. OU will compete at the NCA National Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida , April 4-7. 

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