BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A man who helped develop competitive cheerleading testified Tuesday that turning it into a full-fledged college sport would threaten “classical sideline cheerleading.”

Jeff Webb, CEO of the cheerleading organization Varsity Spirit, testified in federal court in a lawsuit against Quinnipiac University. Five volleyball players sued after the school decided in a budgetary move last year to eliminate women’s volleyball in favor of a competitive cheer squad.

Testifying for the players, Webb said competitive cheerleading is as much a sport as chess.

A federal judge is being asked in part to decide whether cheerleading can be counted as a sport by schools looking for ways to comply with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women in athletics. He’s also considering whether Quinnipiac improperly manipulates the size of the rosters to comply with those requirements.

An activity can be considered a sport under Title IX if it meets specific criteria, including having coaches, practices and competitions during a defined season and a governing organization. The activity also must have competition as its primary goal — not merely the support of other athletic teams.

Because the Quinnipiac competitive cheer team competes against other teams, it meets that standard. So do the cheer teams at a handful of other schools such as Oregon and Maryland, which in 2003 became the first school to create a separate cheer team for competitions.

Routines are scored like gymnastics. Teams are judged on tumbling, acrobatic throws and dance.

Before this past season, all major championships were bestowed by the National Cheerleaders Association, which hosts competitions, and the Universal Cheerleading Association. Both are tied to Webb’s Varsity Brands Inc., which makes cheerleading apparel and runs camps.

But Webb said cheer competitions were developed to give the activity and his company exposure, not to turn cheerleading into a sport.

“We want to make sure we preserve the very qualities that make cheerleading such an appealing activity for young people — the leadership, ambassadorship, service in the community,” he said in a statement after testifying Tuesday. “These are the character traits that cheerleading has always fostered. To see cheerleading treated as just another sport diminishes its positive qualities.”

No cheer team can win a NCAA national championship.

Webb recommends that Quinnipiac and the other schools form a new sport that is not called cheerleading, with a distinct look, format, name and rules.

The schools are already moving in that direction.

Last fall, Quinnipiac and seven other schools formed a governing body, the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association, to govern and develop competitive cheer as a sport. They held their first championships this past year.

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