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January 2017 40 www.sportseventsmagazine.com t SPORT Report School Spirit Beginning in the fall of 2017, California will classify competitive cheer as a sport, joining nine other states in doing so: Michigan, New York, Maine, New Hamp- shire, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Alaska and Virginia. The classification permits cheerleading competitions to be held by the schools in- stead of relying on private companies or donations. In addition, being an officially recognized high school sport improves safety, according to supporters of the bill that was signed into law in 2015. "Bringing it under that umbrella of the sanctioning of rules and regulations for safety and consistency definitely helped bring some people in," Boone said. "The numbers that we are collecting are the competitive side of it. … We've been able to push that it is a sport and should be treated as such." Spirit competitions have a lot to cheer about as well. Jeff Webb, founder of Varsity Spirit and chairman of the $1.3 billion Varsity Brands, has called cheerleading "a unique combination of leadership, athleticism and entertainment." Hundreds of competitions are held each year throughout the United States. ESPN covers cheer and dance events. With continued growth in cheerlead- ing and dance, ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World Resort broke ground in 2016 on a state-of-the-art competition venue. ESPN teamed up with Varsity Spirit to create what they called the "first venue in the world specifically designed for cheerleading and dance competitions." With space for 8,000 spectators, perfor- mance and warm-up spaces and multi-use courts, officials see it as a model for other such cheer and dance venues. The facility is expected to open in mid-2017. Looking Toward Olympics An effort is under way to make cheer- leading an Olympic sport. Application has been made to the International Olympic Committee to consider it for the 2020 games. The International Cheer Union com- prises 105 member national federations made up of 3.5 million athletes on all continents. Its Junior World Cheerleading Championship and World Cheerleading Championship are scheduled for April at Walt Disney World in Orlando and will draw competitors from 70 countries. Cheer and dance competitions bring big bucks to host cities and facilities. The 2016 National High School Cheerleading Championship and National Dance Team Championships drew more than 50,000 spectators when the event was held in Orlando. For that event, Varsity Brands hosted more than 18,000 of the country's top high school cheer- leaders and dancers, showcasing nearly 5,400 dancers from 345 teams and nearly 13,000 cheerleaders from 667 teams. The number of participating athletes increased by nearly 10 percent in 2016 over the previous year. Webb said Varsity Brands "is thrilled to continue to see our competitions grow in popularity, encouraging cheerleading and dance participation from athletes across the world." In January 2017, JAMfest Cheer Super Nationals brought in 700 teams with five to 32 members each competing in various age divisions. Participation in JAMfest is also ex- pected to increase over previous years, due mainly to a merger of JAMfest with Varsity Spirit, which brings its teams into competition. "It's growing a lot this year — by 100 teams or more," said Tina Sexton, vice president of U.S. Finals, which puts on the JAMfest event. "Indianapolis really welcomes us." The event has Stay to Play at dozens of hotels in downtown Indianapolis. "We basically shut down the town when we are there," Sexton said. Visit Indy estimates the event gener- ates more than $20 million in economic impact for Central Indiana. Just how popular is cheerleading as a competitive sport? Consider the JAM- fest organization's calendar of events for 2017: 30 competitions are scheduled through June in cities across the country. And that is just one of hundreds such organizations in the United States. n Varsity Spirit Specifications for Cheer & Dance Competitions Planning an event? JAMfest uses some of the following as basic specifications for cheer and dance events: • Performance area of 50,000 to 75,000 square feet; ceiling at least 30 feet high • Practice area of 10,000 to 20,000 square feet; ceiling at least 20 feet high • Performance stage at least 64 feet wide, 52 feet deep and 4 feet high • Seating to accommodate 2,000 to 3,500 people • At least one EMT/paramedic or trainer on site for the entire length of the event n