For Alabama Cheerleaders, Victory Without the Spoils

Paul Steinbach Headshot

When David McDowell was at the University of Kentucky, cheerleading national championships were a virtual given, as were the championship rings that came with them. He has five Universal Cheerleaders Association rings from his days in Lexington - two earned as a UK cheerleader (in 2001 and 2002), and three more as an assistant coach.

Now, in his fourth year as the head of the University of Alabama cheerleading program, McDowell avenged back-to-back second-place finishes to Kentucky when Alabama defeated his alma mater at the UCA championships last month. "It was awesome," McDowell says. "Alabama has always been so close. Personally, I was just excited as all get out."

But alas, the Tuscaloosa News this week reported the University of Alabama's policy against the awarding of rings to teams that win championships in competitions not sanctioned by the NCAA. Ironically, the event was held at the Jostens Center at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. Jostens is a leading manufacturer of class and custom rings.

The Alabama policy is the latest anecdotal evidence among naysayers that cheerleading isn't a sport, despite the efforts of some schools to raise the activity (or varsity status. Last year, a U.S. judge ruled that Quinnipiac University could not apply competitive cheer numbers toward Title IX athletics compliance.

For Alabama's team - a true cheerleading squad that provides sideline support for the Crimson Tide football, men's and women's basketball, gymnastics and volleyball programs - the ring was the thing. "In all honesty, it was one of the ways that they were motivated this year," McDowell says. "Seeing the Kentucky rings over the years, they used that throughout the whole year of practice as motivation. 'Hey, we want one of those.' "

Team members can still purchase their own rings (which may cost between $250 and $500 apiece, according to McDowell), but they must first clear any intended use of Alabama's script "A" logo with the school's trademark and licensing department - just as any club sports team would.

While McDowell admits that seeing his squad members become victors without the spoils was upsetting, he adds, "They're kind of moving past that now. I'm like, 'Guys, we still won. We don't have the ring, but we still have a national championship. We still took down Kentucky.' Holding onto that kind of rejuvenates them."

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