Cheerleading is a sport.

Cheerleaders are athletes.

Why is this such a difficult concept to understand?

As a former cheer dad, I can tell you that cheerleaders work every bit as hard to hone their skills as do football players, or basketball players or runners or volleyball players.

I can tell you I played sports all my life and was fortunate enough to never have a real serious injury.

My oldest daughter, Rachel, on the other hand, underwent knee surgery and suffered a broken foot during her cheerleading career. Yes, these young ladies (and young men, in some cases) put their bodies at risk, too.

My feathers got a little ruffled earlier this week when Kentucky High School Athletic Commissioner Julian Tackett was discussing limiting the number of people at high school football games to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus.

“Cheerleaders are not essential at a football game. They’re nice but not essential,” Tackett said.

Now to be fair to Tackett — a man who I have a great deal of respect for — he did go on to add that, “(Cheerleaders) will be essential when they have their season. That’s their essential time.”

I will agree that competitive cheerleading may have changed the focus of the sport over the course of time. Cheerleaders work hard on their routines and we can all be proud of how well local cheerleaders have fared through the years in state and national competitions.

And it’s great that the KHSAA plans on moving forward with cheerleading competition this year. We can keep our fingers crossed and hope that all of our local prep athletes will at least get the opportunity to have some semblance of a season in COVID-crazy 2020.

But to imply that cheerleading is not an important element of Friday night football games is simply wrong, in my view.

While cheerleaders are not “competing” on Fridays, they do add an “essential” ingredient to the atmosphere — the very spirit — of a football game. You can say the same thing about marching bands. 

I realize this is a very different year for athletics and we’re fortunate to even have our football teams on the gridiron this fall.

At the end of the day, is football essential? I would say yes. And it would be an emphatic “YES.” Some might not view a high-contact sport like football such a bright idea during a pandemic. But athletics, and the normality it brings to our high school students during these difficult times, may be more “essential” now than they have ever been.

I’m glad we’re playing. And I realize there has to be attendance guidelines and sideline restrictions.

But I would hope that cheerleading squads would be the last group, other than the football teams themselves, to be eliminated from the sidelines this fall. If they’re willing to wear masks and social distance, there’s no reason to prevent them from cheering on their team during home games.

If you take away so much of the the spirit and the atmosphere, why even bother with having fans in the stands at all?

JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.

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