After the Morgan cheerleaders did what they could to motivate, entertain and involve the crowd during the Trojans' win on the basketball court last Thursday night, they crowded around their coach for instruction.

As everyone else in the crowded gym filed out celebrating the big region victory, the cheerleaders began to practice. After hours of serving the school, this was their time.

That little extra practice paid off Saturday when the Trojans took home the first-place trophy in the 3A competition of the Utah Cheer Coaches Association's Second Annual Cheer Competition Saturday at UVSC.

The powers that be might not want to acknowledge it, but cheerleading has changed. It continues — with or without official support — to evolve from an activity in which cheerleaders rooted for the home team and entertained the crowd to one where they actually compete head-to-head with other cheer squads. It's part cheering, part dance, part drill and part gymnastics. And it's also coed for many schools.

This isn't your mom's cheer experience.

"This is really the only thing they do for themselves," said North Summit cheerleading coach Kathy Chappell. "It helps keep them motivated all year long. North Summit has competed for the last 10 to 15 years. It's a small part of cheerleading, but it's an important part because it really pushes them to reach their potential."

Heather Moore, one of three seniors on North Summit's squad, said the element of competition makes it more intense. She and her teammates said there isn't a more team-oriented sport than cheering.

"We depend on every single person," said senior Jessica Orgill. "In cheerleading there is no such thing as a star player."

Lacey Hatch, who participated in the competition with a knee brace on, said she's learned respect, responsibility, service and hard work from cheering.

"You really have to work together and trust each other, so you learn to listen to other people and respect their wishes," said Hatch. The Braves lost a couple of cheerleaders to injury and had to revamp their routine.

"There isn't anyone on the floor who doesn't matter," said Moore. "You have to involve everybody."

Many cheerleading squads compete at regional and national competitions, but last year local coaches decided to have a state competition. Saturday was their second such event and with a standing-room-only crowd, they're optimistic support for the sport will only grow.

"I think it's a good reward for all the hard work they put in for everybody else all year," said UVSC head cheer coach and competition director Heather Haynie. "It's a chance to show off their skills."

After watching these athletes compete and talking with many of them, I don't understand the reluctance to sanction it as a sport. If participation is the goal, this sport offers a place for everyone — boys and girls.

I know there are issues. Aren't there always hurdles to deal with when adding sports or activities under the official umbrella?

Take girls golf for instance. There are issues, but the difference was that no one was arguing about whether it was a sport. Instead, everyone did whatever they could to make girls golf teams a reality. This spring dozens of girls who dared not play with the boys' teams will head out onto courses with their own coaches, their own teammates in their own leagues.

They will have complete, unfettered support from the powers that be.

Cheer athletes deserve the same.

I do think, like lacrosse, cheer squads and coaches should do everything they can to show the UHSAA and school administrators that they're seriously committed to being a full-fledged sport. They have a coaches association that is doing what it can to train each other, and I dare you to find a more service-oriented sport. Sanctioning them means recognizing them. They could earn academic all-state awards and be recognized at assemblies and other community functions.

Wouldn't it be nice if these student-athletes, who spend most of their free time rallying the student body and community around schools' teams and causes were acknowledged and supported in the same way?

It is nice to know that cheer coaches aren't waiting to be sanctioned. They're coming together to recognize these girls and their efforts and will continue to do so. They understand the reluctance of some, but hope eventually, officials will understand what those in the sport already know.

"We don't worry about whether people say it's a sport because we know it is," said Orgill.

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