Cheerleaders head to championships

Shaundelyn “Shaun” DeGraffenreidt spends hours on the track practicing a cheer routine with one goal in mind: to win this year’s Black College National Cheerleading Championship. The 18-year-old freshman said she doesn’t do it for the glory, trophy or media exposure but in hopes of proving to students, faculty and the Athletic Department that cheerleading should be recognized as a sport.

“I played every sport and this (cheerleading) is a sport,” DeGraffenreidt said. “We practice longer than other sports, we go to the weight room like other athletes and still don’t get as much recognition or credit.”

Unlike department-funded sports including, football, basketball and volleyball, cheerleading is classified as an activity and receives money from activity and service fees.

This year the cheerleaders received $28,000.

Coach Angela Ross, a former high school cheerleader in Quincy, said the amount of money allocated is a result of stereotypes senators have about cheerleaders.

“It’s a stigma around here at FAMU that they’re just dancers,” Ross said. “Every sport requires good skills and their skill level is excellent.”

The NCAA, as well, does not recognize cheerleading as a sport.

Ross said its status as an activity and not a sport has prevented cheerleaders from receiving the same perks as other athletes.

“Not only do they travel with the football team and perform during the games, but they have to perform at the recruitment fairs too,” Ross said. “Not to mention that they don’t get any scholarships.”

Despite NCAA regulations, many colleges and universities recognize their cheerleaders as athletes and offer scholarships.

“Squad members have always been recognized as athletes,” said Saleem Habash, cheerleading coach at the University of Kentucky. The university has won 12 National College Cheerleading Championships, including eight consecutive titles. The squad’s popularity caused the university to offer scholarships in order to attract cheerleaders.

Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black university in Charlotte, N.C. also provides financial assistance to its cheerleading athletes, the Luv-A-Bulls.

“We’re looking at giving scholarships in the future but alumni contribute funds for their (cheerleaders) expenses,” JCSU Coach Peggy Lide. “We try to help them with whatever they need.”

The squad members’ performances have not only won them several titles, including Black College National Cheerleading Championship in 2001, but the respect of the students.

“They really are loveables,” Lide said. “The students really love and respect them. If they don’t perform at a game, students want to know why.”

DeGraffenreidt said that even if cheerleading is never officially recognized as a sport by the NCAA or FAMU, she will continue to cheer at games all in the name of dedication to her beloved sport.

“This is all out of free will. I’ve had busted lips from cheerleading and been bruised but my heart is with cheering.”

Naeemah Khabir can be reached at