Sunday, January 14, 2007

Equal Cheerleading For Boys and Girls Draws Fire

Today's New York Times has an article on a new ruling under Title IX, the 1972 gender equality law, that requires school cheerleading squads to cheer at both boys' and girls' sporting events. While the ruling is focused on upstate New York, schools around the country have been working to redefine the essence of cheerleading, seeing the traditional pattern of girl squads exclusively cheering boys' sports teams as sexist:

Thirty girls signed up for the cheerleading squad this winter at Whitney Point High School in upstate New York. But upon learning they would be waving their pompoms for the girls’ basketball team as well as the boys’, more than half of the aspiring cheerleaders dropped out.

The eight remaining cheerleaders now awkwardly adjust their routines for whichever team is playing here on the home court — “Hands Up You Guys” becomes “Hands Up You Girls”— to comply with a new ruling from federal education officials interpreting Title IX, the law intended to guarantee gender equality in student sports.

“It feels funny when we do it,” said Amanda Cummings, 15, the cheerleading co-captain, who forgot the name of a female basketball player mid-cheer last month.

Whitney Point is one of 14 high schools in the Binghamton area that began sending cheerleaders to girls’ games in late November, after the mother of a female basketball player in Johnson City, N.Y., filed a discrimination complaint with the United States Department of Education. She said the lack of official sideline support made the girls seem like second-string, and violated Title IX’s promise of equal playing fields for both sexes.

But the ruling has left many people here and across the New York region booing, as dozens of schools have chosen to stop sending cheerleaders to away games, as part of an effort to squeeze all the home girls’ games into the cheerleading schedule.

Boys’ basketball boosters say something is missing in the stands at away games, cheerleaders resent not being able to meet their rivals on the road, and even female basketball players being hurrahed are unhappy.
Here's the background on the legislation:

Under Title IX, all schools and colleges that receive federal money are prohibited from gender discrimination in any area, from academics to athletics. The education department has interpreted that mandate to mean, among other things, that girls’ and boys’ teams must receive equal treatment, from the salaries of their coaches to the condition of their locker rooms.

Intended to expand opportunities for female athletes, Title IX essentially requires schools and colleges to spend equivalent amounts on men’s and women’s sports programs. But some Title IX supporters complain that some schools have twisted the letter of the law to skirt its spirit, cutting lower-profile men’s sports like wrestling or swimming to offset the costs of football rather than adding women’s teams. But others complain that the law has expanded women’s teams of limited interest at the expense of more popular boys’ teams.
Read the whole thing. The changes are having some strange effects. Some critics argue that cheerleading squads -- with their newer, intense acrobatic athleticism -- are being defined as "sports teams" to comply with Title IX's equal funding rules.

At Whitney Point High School, the cheerleaders attend only home games for the boys varsity teams, and since all the schools in the district comply with the ruling, rival teams do not bring their cheerleading squads to away games. That doesn't sound like a lot of fun for the cheerleaders, who complain that they miss seeing and competing with rivil cheer teams.

Title IX has been widely credited with opening up academic and athletic opportunities for women, and is seen as one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation on gender equality. That said, there are some traditional gender roles in society -- like enthusiastic young girls cheering on their school's all-boy football teams -- that have a place in the very social fabric of American life. By increasing cheer support for more and more athletic teams, schools may be killing off -- or at least dramatically changing -- an activity that's been a time-honored part of growing up.

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