The Cheer and Pom teams will have the chance to win a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship banner for the first time this year. NAIA recently declared competitive cheer and dance to be sports rather than recreational activities.
“This year, 2016-2017, is the first year that cheer and dance are recognized as a championship sport within the NAIA,” Athletic Director Jim Abbott said.
After three years of testing the NAIA waters as an invitational sport, this season will be the first that Cheer and Pom teams across the nation will have a chance to compete in the NAIA championships for a chance at the coveted red banner.
Cheer and Pom competed previously at the National Cheerleaders Association and the National Dance Alliance championships, as well as at the invitational level at NAIA. The teams have brought home numerous championship banners from the NCA and NDA, including three titles last season. However, the NAIA competition will be the only chance at nationals the teams will get this year.
“We used to qualify for nationals by going to camp and receiving a bid, but now there’s a regular season like any other sport,” explained Alicia Bailey, head cheerleading coach. “You have to go through playoffs and be selected to compete at nationals… We only get that one shot – we can’t go to the NAIA competition and then compete at NCA or NDA a few weeks later.”
The policy for NCA and NDA doesn’t allow teams to attend those competitions as well as NAIA.
As far as operations within the athletic department, not much is going to change. Abbott was proud to point out that OCU has been ahead of the curve in that regard; in the almost decade of the existence of the Cheer and Pom teams, they have been held to the same high standards for eligibility and given the same access to facilities, budget funding, scholarships, and trainers.
“We’ve always been treated like the other teams here at OCU, but many teams at other schools have not had that privilege. There’s a lot of schools that are going to be making that transition now,” Bailey said.
Coaches and team members said they are excited about what the new recognition means for the teams and the sport as a whole.
“It feels like our hard work is paying off,” Pom Sophomore Katie Kelley said. “We can’t wait to compete in NAIA championships this year.”
Bailey said she is looking forward to the impact it’ll have on cheerleaders who’ve grown up being told what they do isn’t a sport. “We can show them that they can be involved in college athletics,” she said.
This season’s competition starts in the spring semester, including a regional qualifier on Feb. 18 at Henry J. Freede Wellness and Activity Center, leading up to the national championships in March.