BY CANDACE MARTINO
The heated debate whether a cheerleader is an athlete or not has gained national media attention. No matter what your take is on the situation, there is enough evidence to backup both sides of the argument.
Cheerleaders are mostly seen on the sidelines of football, basketball, or even hockey games doing stunts and engaging the crowd, but the way fans see it, cheerleaders are just one more person supporting their team. Though, what the average fan doesn’t see is the rigorous and demanding training schedules that cheerleaders encounter in order to perfect routines displayed at events. Although the NCAA or National Federation of State High School Association do not deem cheering as a sport, that doesn’t stop the University of Tampa cheerleading team to believe so.
Given the definition of “what a sport is,” cheering has fulfilled the criteria to the fullest, if not better than some activities called sports. There is no question that cheerleading is a physically demanding sport, especially when competition is involved. Dances are created that call for tumbling, stunts, and gymnastic routines all of which requires strength, stamina, timing, and balance. Those exact requirements meet the typically athletic requirement.
Head coach Mannie Rotella, much like any other sport, directs UT’s competitive cheer team supervising routines, stunts, and motivating her team. Rotella is in her third season as head coach and is assisted by Danielle Rankin. Before accepting the position at Tampa, Rotella spent four years at nearby University of South Florida, competing at the Division 1 level in both competitive and in-game cheer. She grew up a gym rat in her home state of Massachusetts and developed a diverse background in gymnastics and competitive cheerleading, which led to pursuing a career in coaching.
“Being a college coach is very demanding and honestly, exhausting– in a good way. Coaching UT cheerleading is not my full-time job, but it is on my mind all the time,” Rotella said, “I think about the things I can do to better the program while I’m falling asleep at night and every minute leading up to practices. Our teams are very important to us and we always want what is best for them as athletes, as students, and as people. The athletic coaching staff at UT is the best. These coaches are so passionate and driven to help their teams succeed.”
Cheerleading at UT requires just as much as any other school throughout the country, and often times can be compared to the practice times of a varsity sport. Practices are held three times a week for three-hour sessions along with workouts with UT strength and conditioning coaches.
“You can’t just practice once or twice a week and be a good competitive cheerleader. It’s eating healthy, drinking water, taking care of your body, practicing on your off days, working out every day so that you’re strong enough to control your own body and throw other people in the air. Not only that, but it is a full-team sport. If one person is missing, it affects our entire routine,” Rotella said.
The argument for any activity to truly be considered a sport is that it must involve competition. Competitive cheering is when squads go head-to-head against each other and are evaluated on a standard set of rules. Though, what raises the question whether competitive cheerleading is qualified as a sport or not is that there is no governing body or consistent set of rules. Each competition host or organizer is responsible for his or her own championship tournament.
This year, the Spartans will be attending the National Cheerleading Association (NCA) College National in Daytona Beach. The competition will be held Apr. 6-9 and is one of the biggest cheerleading events in the country. This past summer, Tampa participated in an NCA college cheerleading camp at Boston University, where the squad earned a silver paid bid to college nationals.
“This was a really big deal for our team since we were given a partially-paid bid at our first ever NCA college camp. This allows us to compete at NCA College Nationals which was our first goal as a team coming into this season,” Rotella said.
The competitive cheer team will be performing their nationals routine on Saturday, Feb. 20 between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. in Cass Gym, and is open to all UT students. The Spartans will be back in action March 6 as they travel to the Florida State Fair to compete in an exhibition. The Spartans will follow up in a competition hosted by the University of Florida right before heading to nationals.
“With Nationals coming up so soon, they can see that end goal and push themselves more and more each practice to reach it,” Rotella said, “I have no doubt that UT will have a National Championship Title in the near future if our program continues to progress the way it has been.”