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.