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      USA Gymnastics to sanction cheerleading

      The national governing body for gymnastics has agreed to sanction college cheer competitions, a step aimed at getting competitive cheerleading recognized as a sport.

      USA Gymnastics will sanction events held by the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association, a group formed last year by six schools with varsity competitive cheerleading teams, the organizations said Thursday.

      The college group is changing its name from the National Collegiate Stunts and Tumbling Association, and will now call what its athletes do "team acrobatics and tumbling" rather than "competitive cheerleading."

      It's an effort to end the confusion between the activity of sideline cheerleading and the gymnastic and tumbling competitions that make up competitive cheerleading, said Oregon coach Felecia Mulkey.

      "What you are seeing is the birth of a new sport," she said.

      The partnership comes after a federal judge in Connecticut ruled earlier this summer that competitive cheer had not developed enough to be considered a college sport in meeting federal gender equity requirements under Title IX. In ruling that Quinnipiac University could not replace its volleyball team with a competitive cheer squad, Judge Stefan Underhill said competitive cheer lacked standardized rules and a sanctioning body, among other things.

      Under this agreement, the athletes and coaches will become members of USA Gymnastics and adhere to that group's rules and policies.

      Previously, competitive cheerleading championships were put on by two private organizations with ties to Varsity Brands Inc., which makes cheerleading apparel and runs camps.

      The schools will participate in six to eight team acrobatics and tumbling meets. The events will no longer look like dance competitions, but will have standardized rules and scoring, with the teams participating in six rounds - compulsory, stunt, pyramid, basket toss, tumbling and a team routine, officials said.

      "It's another step toward meeting the criteria that the judge laid out and we are aggressively pursuing those exact steps to make this an emerging sport," said John Blake, the executive director of the NCATA.

      He said the schools plans to seek emerging sports status with the NCAA next May.

      USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said that would mean giving many more young women the chance to become college athletes.

      "As you get to the higher level of gymnastics there are just a couple of different paths you can take," he said. "Now we are creating another one. If we can help grow opportunities for young gymnasts, then we are doing something positive."

      Currently only Quinnipiac, Oregon, Baylor, Maryland, Azusa Pacific University, and Fairmont State University have competitive cheer or acrobatics and tumbling teams.

      Blake said the agreement with USA Gymnastics means that is likely to change in the near future.

      "There is no doubt that with the credibility this adds to the sport and with the strides we've made, along with our aggressive communication with schools that this will grow, and it will grow rapidly," he said.