In 2003, the University of Maryland became the first Division I NCAA institution to recognize competitive cheerleading as a varsity sport. And what does that mean exactly? It means these athletes have the same benefits as other campus athletes — a coaching and medical staff; locker rooms; help with academics; and help dealing with the press. Currently, Maryland provides 12 full scholarships to competitive cheerleaders.

Defining Competitive Cheerleading as a Sport

First we must define competitive cheerleading as a sport. Competitive cheerleading is similar but is not the same as the cheerleaders you see on the sidelines of your local high school football game or basketball game. And it certainly isn’t anything like what the professional football teams have. These professional cheerleaders more closely resemble dance companies. Competitive cheerleading squads compete against other schools in cheerleading competitions where they perform high-risk routines under high-pressure circumstances.

Competitive cheerleaders have had to endure skepticism from the general population. Many Americans fail to distinguish it from the sideline shows the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders put on. When in fact, the entire squad is rated on how they perform as a unified body, and on their athletic feats.

Today, more than 200,000 high-school and college students attend cheerleading camps each year; at least 15 percent of them participate in competitions. You can even see some of the national competitions on ESPN. The sport is growing at an accelerated rate.