A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Equal opportunity to cheer?

Apparently, Missouri is not the only state discussing cheerleading this summer.

Michigan's state athletic association is being asked by the American Civil Liberties Union to reconsider its ban on boys in postseason cheerleading tournaments:
The American Civil Liberties Union wants the state's governing body for high school athletics to reconsider a policy keeping boys out of the postseason tournament for competitive cheerleading.

But the Michigan High School Athletic Association questioned the timing of the ACLU's request, since the rules about boys in competitive cheer tournaments were changed in December 2003, The Detroit News reported.

In a letter dated Friday to the MHSAA, Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of ACLU Michigan, said the ACLU wished to "strongly urge" a change in the rules. Steinberg told the newspaper that litigation is possible.

"Postseason competition is a big thing in high schools, and to forbid participation on the basis of sex hurts both boys and girls," Steinberg said.

When Michigan high schools start the 2006-07 year in August, boys no longer will be able to participate in the competitive cheerleading postseason tournament. The ACLU says that violates federal law.

MHSAA spokesman John Johnson expressed puzzlement at the timing of the letter.

"There certainly was enough time for a response to be made earlier than five weeks before those rules officially take effect," Johnson said.

Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said Saturday that the policy was only recently brought to the attention of the ACLU.

By MHSAA rules, Johnson said, boys are not allowed in MHSAA postseason tournament competition for girls in any sport but could compete in regular-season competition if competing schools agree.

In my previous post about cheerleading, there was also a mention in the comments about boys being kept off cheerleading teams.

In my previous post about Title IX, I mentioned that "...the law prohibited sex discrimination in not just athletic opportunities but also in admissions, courses, financial aid, and educational counseling, among other things, for students in American public schools."

People need to remember that the term "sex discrimination" does not merely apply to actions against females. Sex discrimination involves prohibiting anyone from participating in an activity for which they are physically and attitudinally qualified. That includes boys who want to serve as cheerleaders. After all, what is so preposterous about this idea? Cheerleading has become a highly athleticized activity. Cheerleaders don't just memorize insipid little quatrains and wave pompons. They build human pyramids and balance other cheerleaders upon their legs, shoulders, and even outstretched arms. They throw other cheerleaders through the air ("flyers," as my friend Fred tells me). Cheerleading today requires strength. Even the most hardened chauvinist will agree that males are known for having strength, and thus, would be an asset in an activity which requires strength and agility.

It seems pretty obvious that cheerleading is not just a female activity. Ladies. and gentlemen, I present exhibit one:
the HEAD CHEERLEADER of Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in 1963. You probably now recognize him as the chief executive of the United States, George W. Bush. Some might even say that his experience as a cheerleader is useful to him in his current occupation, as well. (I've placed his picture on the right, so he'll feel comfortable.)

Yes, Philips Academy was an all-boys school. Yes, he primarily led chants and heckled the other team, rather than serving as the foundation for a human pyramid, but cheerleading back in the day did not really involve athleticism in the way that it does now. Nonetheless, if George can do it, so should today's Ryans or Jakes, should they so choose.

Yet the first cheerleaders were male. As this interesting (and humorous) article from slate. com notes:
The cheerleader has grappled with her identity since at least the early 1900s, as Natalie Guice Adams and Pamela J. Bettis explain in their delightful book Cheerleader!: An American Icon. Originally, male cheerleaders (or "rooter kings") patrolled the sidelines at college football games, trying to organize the yells of spectators. The male cheerleader was something of a campus eminence, regarded as an up-and-coming entrepreneur and future captain of industry. In 1911, The Nation declared that "the reputation of having been a valiant 'cheer-leader' is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of being a quarterback." (Not everyone saw cheerleading as a benevolent exercise in vocational training. A. Lawrence Lowell, the president of Harvard, called it the "worst means of expressing emotion ever invented.")

World War II drained the universities' supply of able-bodied males, and cheerleading became almost exclusively the province of females. A new type of cheerleader emerged: a future housewife—the '50s ideal of womanhood packed into a varsity sweater. The cheerleader dressed as a pillar of moral rectitude: colorful hair bows, an ankle-length skirt, and saddle oxfords. She was, by unanimous acclaim, one of the most popular girls in school and also one of the most beautiful—and her elevation to the squad was usually determined by a schoolwide vote. She wasn't a jock. She demonstrated little athletic ability, rarely performing a move more daring than a modest jump or a split—certainly nothing like the pyramidal artistry that would come later.

The modern cheerleader was forged in 1972 when she was waylaid by two distinct cultural forces. First was the passage of Title IX, which invigorated women's sports programs at colleges and high schools. With more girls drifting toward soccer and volleyball, cheerleading seemed antiquated. Along came Jeff Webb, a former University of Oklahoma cheerleader, who turned his passion into a legitimate athletic pursuit by making it more like gymnastics. Through camps and workshops, Webb taught complicated flips and ditched the sweaters and long skirts for more aerodynamic uniforms. Cheerleading morphed from a purely social enterprise into part of a young woman's athletic regimen: A 2002 survey cited by authors Adams and Bettis showed that more than half of cheerleaders participated in other sports.

Male cheerleaders as sissies? I don't think so. As you can see, it takes a lot of muscle to be able to cheer at the top collegiate level today. Many people stereotypically believe that men are more avid sports fans than women (and by the way, come by my house during the world cup or the football season if you want to see that that's a total canard). It's only natural that males as well as females be able to channel that passion for their school and their team into participation on the cheerleading squad.

Cheerleading: it's not just for the quarterback's girlfriend any more.


At 6/26/06, 8:43 AM, Blogger Fred said...

We had our first male cheerleaders two years ago, and they were an instant hit.

No one gave them problems, and the local newspaper had a huge article on them because they were two of only a handful in the entire district.

I can't imagine why Michigan would have such a rule. For people who are supposedly teaching our youth important life lessons, these educators seem to have their head in the sand.

At 6/26/06, 9:15 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I have seen male cheerleaders popping up around here lately too, and I think it's cool. For safety's sake, I frankly encourage it, since the upper body strength makes the lifts and throws less dangerous, in my opinion.

And I think a young man who wanted to challenge this ban using Title IX could definitely make a case.

At 6/26/06, 5:51 PM, Blogger Superdestroyer said...

Sorry to disagree with you but men are much more of the sports fans than women. Women barely support women's athletics (look at the difference in crowds for college men's and women's basketball.

What is also interesting is that at least one study claim that the increase in girls in sports has to do much more with soccer dads and soccer moms. It is usually Dad who gets his daughters involved in sports and is more likely to coach the team than mom.

At 6/26/06, 8:29 PM, Blogger quakerdave said...

Sissies? No way. Hey, George W. was a cheerleader! He ain't no sissy!

And I absolutely agree that all those girls playing soccer and field hockey and lacrosse and softball and volleyball MUST all doing so just to please their daddies. I mean, really, they couldn't be doing it for any other reason, like because, maybe, they enjoy it.

Good grief.

At 6/27/06, 6:46 AM, Blogger Superdestroyer said...


If you look at http://www.webmd.com/content/article/73/88835.htm?lastselectedguid={5FE84E90-BC77-4056-A91C-9531713CA348} you will see that fathers played more of a role model -- influencing the girls to get active in the first place.

At 6/27/06, 8:17 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Speaking as a GIRL who plays sports, I can only say:

Who taught me how to punt a football in a way that made the boys envious? Mother.

Who took me to the field and tossed me endless pitches and made my little brother shag the balls for hours? Mother.

Who made my father set up a basketball goal for me? Mother.

I could go on and on, but I won't. Sorry, superdestroyer, but I must disagree with you. I see plenty of women at the baseball game, the World Cup, and the football stadium. I know, because we are all standing in line by the hundreds trying to go to the john as the men go breezing along on their way and obviously neglecting basic hygiene....

No, seriously now, those who believe in stereotypes say that Sports Illustrated is just a gossip rag for men. I find that insulting to both men and women.

Apparently, you don't see any women watching sports. I don't see the same thing. And I am such a rabid sports fan that, even though I went to a university not known for excellent athletics, my mug was on national television as I screamed death to the opponents of my beloved alma mater on the football field during a halcyon time of actual competence on the gridiron.

In our house, my daughters have been asking to play sports from the time that there were teams available. Could it be that they were influenced by watching mommy go out and play a couple of times a week? If they followed the example of Daddy, they'd play video games six hours a day...

And, finally, if fathers are so important for encouraging participation in sports, as Bill Cosby once pointed out, why is it that all those football players, when given a close-up on camera, always say "Hi MOM!" right into the lens?

I play (still! unlike many of those couch potatoes who TALK sports all day but don't do more than drive to the QuikTrip for chips and salsa on Sunday when it comes to exercise) because I enjoy it, not because it pleased my Dad, may he rest in peace, since most of the time that I was practicing or playing, he was working or napping.

And I'd be more inclined to trust webmd as a source of reliable information if they, or indeed anyone in the American medical establishment, could, just once, actually state with an iota of certainty if anything (red wine! chocolate! high fiber! low carbs!) is actually good for you....

At 6/27/06, 10:09 AM, Blogger Superdestroyer said...

Ms Cornelius,

I guess you missed the class where they should have taught you that anecdotal evidence is not evidence. You write nine paragraphs of anecdotes and then try to pick at a reference. A very weak argument!

Look at the numbers.

Women do not support women’s teams. You supported the men’s football team in college but look at the attendance at women's college basketball. Even the best programs like UConn charge much less for admission at the women's games than the men’s games and have lower attendance. Do you know anyone who fills out a women's bracket for the NCAA tournament?

Women drop out at much higher rates than boys do in middle and high school. Yuppie parents all tell me about how great their 12 y/o daughter is but very few seem to talk about their 17 t/o daughter. See http://www.thesportjournal.org/1999Journal/Vol2-No2/Schultz.asp which writes that As girls move from grade school to high school, they drop-out of sports at a rate six times higher than boys. Look at the number of male and female participants in intramural sports at virtually any university: overwhelmingly male (see www.hecb.wa.gov/Docs/reports/Gender1-2000.pdf. Also, women will not walk on at the college level. If you went to an university with a Div 1 football team, that team had walk on (non-scholarship) players. I bet the women's soccer, lacrosse, field hockey team did not have any (or just a few) walk-ons. See http://www.ncaa.org/gender_equity/resource_materials/AdditionalMaterials/IntenseDebateOverWalkOns_93.pdf.

The type of participants in women’s sports is much less diverse than in men’s sports. https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/binary-data/WSF_ARTICLE/pdf_file/955.pdf. Maybe the suburban soccer mom’s can support the cheerleaders, the Mia Hamms, etc and all the rest of the benefits of Title IX because they are so overwhelmingly white. The Washington Post had an article that some of the inner-city high schools in Washington, DC had as few as 30 female athletes in total. Compare that to the white suburban school.

At 6/27/06, 6:21 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

Georgie Bush II is not the only other US President to have been a cheerleader......after injuring his knee and was not able to play football, Dwight D. Eisenhower became a school a cheerleader.

At 6/27/06, 8:47 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6/28/06, 11:22 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...


Now, apparently YOU missed the instruction where I asked for polite discussion. Nowhere does it say "argument." I get enough argument in my daily life. So I am not trying to argue with you, and if that doesn't sit well with you,... it's my blog.

Also, perhaps this quote may sound familiar: "There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Now I am not saying that all statistics are bad. But someone who merely relies on statistics certainly has a view of the world which relies on mean, median, and mode. And none of these are actual reality. Talent is distributed in the population in a statistically insignificant manner. Doesn't make it any less important-- probably makes it MORE important.

So I reserve the right to use anecdotal evidence, since that is based on actual experience. And let's discuss, but not hammer each other over the head, in a pointless attempt to "win."


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