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Leveling the High School Cheering Field

January 15, 2007

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New enforcement of federal education rules has meant a much busier schedule for many high school cheerleaders. The reaction has been both positive and negative.

A recent court ruling requires American schools to provide cheerleaders for girls basketball, volleyball, and other sports that traditionally have not had cheerleaders—or much attendance, for that matter. Cheerleading has long been a common sight at football and boys basketball games, and girls and boys are used to cheering for those male teams. Cheering for girls teams has been difficult for some cheerleaders, however.

Finding room in their busy schedules has been difficult for many cheerleaders as well. Some schools, to make sure that cheerleaders don't miss too many classes, have required that cheerleaders attend only home games—both boys and girls basketball games, for example—and not go to away games. That again is something that has traditionally not been done: Cheerleaders have gone to away games of boys teams but not girls teams. They certainly couldn't afford to go to every away game of every team, especially in this era of tightening school budgets. Some schools have cut their cheerleading squads entirely.

The court ruling applied the cheerleading requirements in keeping with Title IX, a federally mandated law aiming to guarantee gender equality in student sports. As part of this law, schools are directed to spend equal amounts of money and time on boys and girls sports.

One unintended consequence of Title IX is that schools have chosen to eliminate whole sporting programs entirely because their budgets didn't change accordingly with the new Title IX requirements. Most high schools in America still have football, basketball, track, and volleyball teams; but such other sports as tennis, soccer, field hockey, and water polo have not survived the budget ax at many schools.

The focal point of this new amount of attention to a sometimes ignored law is a lawsuit brought by a New York mother, who thought her daughter and her basketball teammates were being treated as "second-class citizens" because they weren't being cheered on by cheerleaders, as the boys basketball and football teams were. As a result of this suit, schools in New York have been directed to have cheerleaders at as many sporting events—boys and girls—as they can.

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