Watch CBS News

Rockwall cheerleader excluded on National Signing Day says cheer deserves recognition as a sport

North Texas cheerleader sidelined from signing day
North Texas cheerleader sidelined from signing day 02:19

ROCKWALL — Rockwall High School cheer captain, Saniya Demars, has been honing her skills since the first grade.

"People say, 'Oh, you just do a little chant and throw your arms up and shake your pompoms.' We're not just out there being cute," she says.  

"I'm breaking my body. I'm breaking my back. Time in the gym, going to different sports events."

Stephen F Austin University in East Texas took notice, actively recruiting her. 

"This is a big stepping stone for our program. Like, we don't get a lot of these opportunities," said Saniya. 

But, on National Signing Day this Wednesday, when 18 other athletes were honored in the Rockwall High gym as they signed letters of intent to their chosen schools, Saniya was given a spot for her table in the cafeteria annex. 

"It was a little embarrassing," she said. 

"No one wants to be put in the corner. They want to be put in the gym with the rest of the athletes." 

Saniya said the school initially planned to include her alongside her peers, but then the district's athletics department weighed in. 

The school had to change course, making other arrangements. 

"The answer was pretty much, 'No, cheer is not a sport. She is not an athlete. And this has been a decade-old rule and she would not be allowed to participate," said Alicia Demars, Saniya's mother who said she tried to get the district to reconsider.

Asked if she thinks cheer is a sport, Saniya doesn't hesitate to give her answer. 

"Oh, 100%. I don't think… I KNOW it's a sport," she says. 

At Rockwall ISD, cheer falls under the fine arts department, rather than the athletics department. 

That hasn't stopped Rockwall High from hanging the cheer team's NCA championship banners in the gym where Wednesday's signing took place. 

After a Facebook post by a fellow cheerleader's mother started spreading Saniya's story online, the district appears ready to rethink its position. 

"Moving forward, our campuses will review our current practice to celebrate our students. As a fast-growing district, we continue to see our students excel in more and more activities and are committed to finding ways to celebrate them." 

Saniya is grateful for the support she's received from her team, her school, and all those who've spoken up. 

"I really felt the love that day from all of them," she said. 

She hopes this time next year any graduating cheerleaders in Rockwall signed to universities will get the recognition they deserve. 

"The community and… I think it's gone viral… like the nation wants cheer to be recognized as a sport and children to be recognized in the school," said her mother.  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.