"School Finds Way to Cut Cheerleading Budget, Blame Feminists"

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There's an interesting article in the New York Times right now: Equal Cheers for Boys and Girls Draw Some Boos. The story concerns the fallout from a recent ruling by the New York State Education Department interpreting Title IX to require that women's sports receive the same cheerleading support that men's sports receive. The story follows the typical pattern for Title IX stories: Things used to be great, then nosy feminists got involved and sued everyone, and now everything's gone topsy-turvy and nobody's happy.

The story is this: It used to be that the cheerleading squads in New York State high schools only cheered men's sports. Then the mother of a girl who plays high school basketball sued the school district alleging Title IX violations, since it's only fair that cheerleaders be present at women's sporting events as well. The New York State Education Department agreed. Now, schools are required to provide equal cheerleading support to men's and women's sports; if the cheer squad cheers at a men's basketball game, they have to cheer at a women's basketball game. Given that this doubles the number of games that require cheerleading, the schools have responded by cutting in half the number of men's games at which cheerleaders are present. Thus, now cheerleaders cheer at all the men's and women's basketball home games and none of the away games, where they once cheered at all of the men's home and away games and no women's games whatsoever.

The tone of the article is that this is an utterly untenable state of affairs. The author can barely rustle up one quote in support of the scheme, from the woman who sued in the first place. That's a shame, because there appears to be a whole second level to the story that the author only hints at. Most of the two-and-a-half page of the story is spent discussing the loss of away-game cheerleading. This, it is argued, is a huge loss for the cheerleaders. Away-games are exciting and give them an opportunity to see how other cheer squads operate (since every school in the district has cut away games, cheer squad now no longer run into each other). The away-game issue appears to be the major argument for why the Education Department's ruling has so thoroughly destroyed the world of high school cheerleading.

This is interesting, because the away-game issue is pretty clearly easy to solve within the parameters set by the ruling. The ruling only states that cheer support has to be given equally to men's and women's sports; it says nothing about that support having to be given at home-games. The school could just as easily have cheerleaders at nothing but away-games. Or they could arrange it so that half of their games in a season are away games and half home games, while still making it so that half are for men's basketball and the other half for women's basketball. I realize that this would require slightly more effort than just scheduling them in for only home games, but it still shouldn't take somebody with an calendar and the two teams's schedules more than about half an hour to arrange.

What I think has actually happened here is that the schools found a way to save on their cheerleading budgets while blaming feminists and Title IX. It's a lot cheaper to send the cheerleaders to 16 home games than it is to send them to 8 home games and 8 away games. Note the mention in the article of the school that cut its cheerleading squad entirely due to budget constraints in 2002, then only now reinstituted it. The article manages to frame this as the squad being devastated because lousy feminists will only let them chear at home games. If, indeed, the students at the school actually have been convinced that the Title IX ruling is responsible for the school cutting away games, rather than a miserly school board, I have to give the school credit for doing a masterful PR job.

The article also mentions a fairly useless anecdote about one time when a school's cheerleaders cheered at a women's basketball game (because the men's game was cancelled) and the women's basketball players found it disruptive and didn't appreciate it. Well, yeah, of course they did. If you're used to playing without cheerleading and then, without warning, you have cheerleaders, of course you'll find it distracting. As the article mentions at the very end, now that cheerleaders are a regular part of home games the women's basketball players have gotten used to it and are enjoying their presence more.

What's hinted at in the article, but never discussed in full, is that a lot of the cheerleaders don't like the new rule because they just plain aren't interested in cheering on girls. I don't know a huge amount about the debate over the place of cheerleading in the modern high school, but the general sense I get is that there's a struggle between those who think that it's a sexist throwback and demeaning to women and those who feel that it's a genuine sport with athletic merit. Within the context of that discussion, I would argue that if one's desire to engage in an activity significantly declines when one discovers that one's audience will be members of the same sex, then that would constitute evidence in favor of the "sexist throwback" school of thought.

I'm pretty much 100% supportive of the Title IX ruling. When I was in high school I was on the Speech and Debate Team and the Academic League. We had home meets and away meets. We represented the school in intra-league, state-wide, and nation-wide competitions. I believe in my four years at high school, the extent of the school's support for both teams was one (1) poorly-made banner in a back corner of the school, wishing us luck at a speech tournament. The poster 1. wished us luck at a tournament that had already occurred, 2. got the location of the tournament wrong, and 3. managed to misspell "Speech and Debate." We paid for our own buses and judges, and where most coaches received a stipend from the school for their services ours coached us gratis. I found it immensely disheartening to represent a school that took pains to remind us constantly that they really didn't care one way or another how we performed because we weren't the basketball team of the football team. Obviously sending the cheer squad to Academic League meets would have been inappropriate, but the clear message at my high school was that they really cared about athletics and didn't much care about academics.

Along those lines, setting the system up so that the official cheer squad only cheers at men's basketball games, when there's no real reason why they couldn't cheer at women's basketball games, is pretty clearly saying that the school considers men's sports importants and women's sports unimportant. Given the goal of Title IX of forcing federally funded schools to provide the same support and recognition to female athletes that they provide to male athletes, I think it's entirely appropriate that cheerleaders either be provided equally to men's and women's sports or not be provided at all.

1 Comment

Terrific blog. Nothing much else to say except that I'm going to check out the rest of your blog when I get a chance.

peace love gap
Johnny Hatchett

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on January 13, 2007 9:04 PM.

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