Sunday, January 14, 2007

Cheerleading and Backlash

Today's New York Times carried an interesting article on the mandate in several upstate New York school districts that cheerleaders support boys' and girls' basketball programs in equal strength. After a complaint was filed with the Department of Education by the parent of a female basketball player, the Whitney Point, NY school district and others entered into a compliance agreement to provide equal publicity to boys' and girls' sports teams, including the presence of cheerleaders. To accommodate the additional work, the cheerleaders generally attend the home games of both the boys' and girls' team, and forgo the away games, meaning that most games do not have rival cheerleading squads, but just the squad for the home team.

The article focuses on the reaction of school administrators, parents, basketball players and the cheerleaders to the change in the program. According to the article, administrators at the schools which made the changes range from being satisfied to grudgingly compliant, and parents, basketball players and the cheerleaders are unhappy about the change. Parents of boys on the basketball team are reportedly upset that there is a lack of cheering for away games. Female basketball players apparently adjusted to having cheerleaders after some time. The most interesting reaction is that of the cheerleaders themselves, which was mixed. Although some of them were agreeable to the change, many girls dropped off of the cheerleading squad because "some of the girls... just did not want to cheer for other girls, while others said the team was not as fun without traveling to away games and being able to check out routines by rival cheerleading teams."

Obviously, making a significant change to the cheerleading program take time to adjust to for students and parents, but the statement of Rosie Purdish, the mother who filed the complaint on behalf of her daughter speaks volumes as to why these changes are necessary in terms of Title IX and gender parity in schools. Noting that as many as 60 cheerleaders, along with their friends and parents, would attend the boys’ games, injecting a level of excitement and spirit that was missing from the girls’ contests, she said, “It sends the wrong message that girls are second-class athletes and don’t deserve the school spirit, that they’re just little girls playing silly games and the real athletes are the boys.” I couldn't agree more, and hope that eventually all of the students feel comfortable and enthusiastic in a system where cheerleaders can cheer for boys and girls (and maybe, just maybe, boys can become cheerleaders if they would like).

Finally, worthy of note is that three schools who were part of the original complaint have defied the mandate of the Department of Education. A lawyer for one of these districts noted that there was no need to send cheerleaders to girls' games, and that the district has "a really solid women’s athletics program and we support it our way.” Apparently that way involves not providing equivalent publicity to boys' and girls' programs, and not complying with Title IX.

4 comments:

truth said...

Check out this article in the Guardian (uk) lauding Title IX:

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/sport/2007/01/15/why_american_sport_is_facing_t.html

Kristen said...

As an assistant cheerleading coach and a 6-year cheerleading veteran, I have mixed feelings about the NYTimes article. I understand the parents concerns regarding cheerleaders being at both male and female athletic events and I agree completely that both genders deserve and should receive equal publicity in academic and athletic events, including the presence of cheerleaders. But I have to wonder, what was the administrations' roll in this lawsuit and how big are some of these school districts? No where in this article, did it mention whether or not the issue was raised with the school board or principals of any of the high schools. Giving the benefit of the doubt, I would assume that administration was contacted with these concerns but the article never makes any mention of it and I, for one, would like to know what was done at the administrative or school board level. Our administration is good about listening to complaints and/or concerns and directing them to the appropriate party if necessary. The way the article is worded makes the cheerleaders and their sponsor look like the bad guys. At my school, any major changes to the routine have to be cleared with administration first. Typically, our cheerleaders, of which there are only 8, travel to away games and cheer at home games. Because of the small number, we have to rotate girls out so no one cheerleader is at all the games unless she so choses. In addition, we also do all home games and all tournaments unless there is a major overlap in the schedule. If we were to choose to cheer only home games and tournaments, we would have to have this cleared with administration. I don't know how other states/conferences/districts arrange their schedules but here in Missouri, the number of home and away contests vary from year to year. For example, last year we had an overwhelming number of home games so this year the majority of our non-tournament games are away and there is some variation between the number of boys and girls contests. To be completely fair to both genders and have an equal number of cheerleader-included games, some home games would have to go without cheerleaders just as the New York districts are facing away contests without cheerleaders. How would that look to have the hosting team NOT having cheerleaders at their own court?

Also, because we are a small district, we don't have the luxury of having a squad for each sport. There simply aren't enough girls interested to have this as a possibility. Because of our strenuous schedule this year with basketball (we don't have a football team) we are looking at the idea of having a JV and a Varsity squad of HS cheerleaders next year so we would be able to somehow divide the games so the cheerleaders aren't taking up to 4 nights a week going to ball games. Even rotating the 8 girls we have is difficult because they are still being pulled away from home frequently and they are expected to maintain the same level of academics as the other athletic teams. Requiring the cheerleaders to attend away games and home games for both boys and girls would put a huge strain on their ability to maintain these grades. No other teams are required to be pulled away from schoolwork and home for extended periods of time during the school week, several days a week so why should the cheerleaders? Why should they be punished academically for doing what they love to do, since it seems, at this point, that the only real way to be "fair" to all the athletic teams is to have cheerleaders at all athletic events, both genders, through out the school week? Taking this a step further, it would also appear that to be completely fair to all extracurricular activities, cheerleaders should also be present at ALL events, not just basketball and football. What about volleyball, baseball, golf, wrestling, track, or even more academic-based events such as chess tournaments? Is it really fair to exclude them from the rotation just because they aren't "cool" or "athletic"? Wouldn't their presence at such events have a similar impact, that impact being school pride, spirit, and support? Where is the line going to be drawn? And when?

I am apalled that the cheerleaders quit primarily because they would have to cheer at girls's games or because they would have to miss the away contests. Yes, I agree that watching other squads perform is exciting and even a learning experience as well as a social one but that is not a cheerleaders job. We are there to support our team and promote school spirit. That is our primary responsibility and to only cheer to be able to go to the boys ball games or quit because you are required to cheer for girls or because you want to see other cheerleaders perform is sad. If that is how you feel, I feel sorry for you. You have completely missed the point.

As for the parents who complained about the cheerleaders not being there, I don't know all the circumstances behind your complaint, but please understand that cheerleading is just as strenuous and complicated as any other sport. Please take a close look at the athletic schedule for your district. If your cheerleaders are only attending home games and most of those games happen to be boys games, I'm sorry. That's just how the games are arranged. We all have to do what is best with what we are given. If it is indeed evident that cheerleaders are biased in their game attendance, I apologize.

As a side note to the original post, boys ARE allowed to be cheerleaders. In fact, there is at least one school less than 50 miles from where I live that have had or do have male cheerleaders. They are fantastic athletes, as are the female cheerleaders and add a whole new dynamic to the sport. Congratulations and thank you if you are one of them.

Cheerleading has come under enough fire in the last few years. Please don't make it any more difficult for us.

EBuz said...

Kristen, thanks for your comments and your sharing your personal experience as a coach.

You raise an interesting question about cheerleading and the hierarchy of sports. Why do only the "cool" sports get cheering? It's not so much a Title IX question, as long as there's overall equity between the cheering for boys and the cheering for girls. But there are certainly other measures of fairness that a school could use to justify a different approach to how cheerleaders are deployed.

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