ST. GEORGE — In a Board of Trustees meeting on March 25, the Utah High School Athletics Association took a new, yet still familiar sport under its umbrella while denying two more that are burgeoning locally.
Utah sports will sanction competitive cheer starting with the 2021-22 but did not approve esports and boys volleyball. Both sports will have the opportunity to be reconsidered next year.
For competitive cheer, it marks a step years in the making, but not necessarily one the entire cheer community wanted. The cheer club scene is a sophisticated one, nearly mirroring that of a UHSAA sanctioned sport to begin with. There will be little to almost no change for some schools. But for others, the impact may be deeply felt on both the positive and negative sides of the spectrum.
“It’s going to be really hard for some programs and for some programs, it will probably be really great,” Brittany Houston, head coach of cheer at Canyon View and president of the Utah Cheer Team Coaches Association, said. “When you’re not sanctioned, you’re a club. You kind of have your own rules, your own thing and some have tried to pattern their programs after the Utah High School Athletics Association guidelines anyway. For them, this will not be a hard change because they’re already doing most of the things that they’re required. For others, who have been doing their own thing, it will be a pretty big change for them.”
Still in the early stages, it appears there may be little change on the athletes’ side. In Utah, club competitive cheer is often organized by region and into UHSAA size classifications. Many schools already have recognized cheer clubs. Many of these programs and governing bodies have been functioning with the belief that the transition to a sanctioned sport would be eventually coming and followed UHSAA guidelines to smooth the process.
Houston said the change will “unify” Utah cheer by making everyone play by the same rules, especially when it comes to budgeting. At Canyon View, she said she can only charge her players half of what some clubs can. That difference in funding often goes to “flags, banners, new uniforms, poms — the things that make you win.” Getting all programs on the same fiscal guidelines will level the playing field. It will also open up the idea of getting funding assistance from athletics departments.
From the UHSAA side, it simply made sense to take on competitive cheer according to Larry Bergeson, superintendent of the Washington County School District and 3A/4A representative on the board.
“At the end of the day, where it’s so closely connected to high school and high school activities and what we do — we provide transportation, they function in our schools, toward our schools — we felt it was important for us to umbrella that under Utah High School Activities Association sanctioned activity,” Bergeson said. “It just fit better. It works well together.”
Competitive cheer already functions like a sanctioned sport more than a lot of other club activities. Performative cheer, though not a sanctioned sport, is present at nearly all sporting events in Region 9.
The infrastructure that already exists is a key difference for cheer vs. esports and boys volleyball. With esports, an issue of access exists. For boys volleyball, which hopes to be listed as a spring sport if or when it is sanctioned, would run during the busiest season in a school year with an already thin supply of bus drivers. Bergeson said existing strains along with those brought on by COVID-19 made it “not the year” for boys volleyball, with some work left to do on esports before its sanctioning to address equity concerns.
Cheer also was the emerging sport with the highest amount of school participation among sports considered this year, with 70 schools. The threshold for consideration was 30% of member schools for co-ed or male sports, counting out to 46. Esports was listed at 46 participating schools while boys volleyball had 48. Other sports that met the criteria for sanctioning, girls mountain biking and boys mountain biking, were not voted on.
St. George News covered the push to sanction boys volleyball more extensively in this article.
Final vote tally counts for each of the sports were not available at the time of writing.
For cheer, Houston said teams will continue to function in clubs for this year before the beginning of the first sanctioned season. While she admitted she preferred the freedom of working as a club, she’s open to what being a bonafide UHSAA sport will bring.
“I would prefer to be a club but I’m hopeful and this is happening,” Houston said. “I want to adapt with that change. I’m excited about it.”
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