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

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Give me a B! Give me an O! Give me another O!

Apparently, sports are really on my mind right now.

If my friends from childhood were reading this now, their jaws would be hitting the floor. I am now going to speak out about an outrage against cheerleaders. Those visions of blonde perfection dressed miniskirts who so tormented many an ugly-duckling girl have changed in the years since I went to high school in Oklahoma, where, remember, the unswerving worship of football rubbed off by association on those perky goddesses. In the years since Title IX started being taken seriously, cheerleading has become more athleticized as a way of providing parity for the money and attention paid to boys' sports in schools. Cheerleaders are now athletes --albeit athletes in incredible skimpy attire which often makes it hard for me to watch their routines at times because I'm afraid of witnessing a "wardrobe malfunction."


Elevating cheerleading to an athletic activity in its own right seemed an easy way to provide girls with athletic opportunities without having to cut a corresponding boys' sport, as has sometimes happpened since Title IX. After all, you're going to have to have cheerleaders, anyway, right? Which is why what just happened in Missouri is all the more surprising.

Like a bolt out of the blue, it was announced yesterday that the Missouri State High School Activities Association will no longer sanction or insure cheerleaders in Missouri to take part in state or regional competitions. Essentially, this reduces cheerleading to a non-competitive activity.
As of July 1, cheerleaders no longer will be sanctioned by the association to take part in regional or state competitions. The activities association will continue jurisdiction over sideline cheerleading at school athletic events. But if squads want to compete at the regional and state levels, they must go as a club.

The activities association's decision means it no longer will provide catastrophic liability insurance to cover accidents during practices for or performances at competitions. The association will continue catastrophic coverage for sideline cheering.

Also at stake is funding for competitions. At many public schools, club sports do not receive district funding. Athletes in club sports pay for their own equipment, insurance, coaches, transportation, lodging and other costs of competitions.

St. Louis-area school districts, like others throughout the state, are now grappling with the fallout as their squads practice routines and head to camps this summer. Each school district must decide whether it will support competitive cheerleading as a club sport.

Some districts, such as Ritenour, Pattonville and Maplewood-Richmond Heights, already have decided they will not fund a cheerleading club, because they do not fund other club sports.

Administrators in districts such as Lindbergh and Rockwood say their cheerleaders will compete while they hash out policies for the future.

Eliminating competition, cheerleaders and coaches say, is similar to telling other varsity athletes that they can play in games but not in district, regional or state tournaments.

"These kids work their tails off for these competitions, and now there are no competitions if they can't pay for it. It's very upsetting," said Jennifer Stanfill, a former cheerleading coach.

...Davine Davis, assistant executive director at the Missouri State High School Activities Association, said the board of directors decided to put the question of competitive cheerleading to a vote among member schools statewide, after hearing the issue come up so often from parents and schools.

Some parents complained that under association rules, their daughters couldn't compete at a national level, nor could they simultaneously cheer with their high school squad and a private competitive team.

Other questions swirled around competitions themselves. Should the association sponsor its own competitions? Should there be more competition? Should competition take place during a different part of the year?

The St. Louis-area caucus of athletic directors with the Missouri Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association went on record this spring to support the continuation of competitive cheerleading, Nolen said.

But the vote last month was 258-184 to drop governance of competitive cheering by the Missouri State High School Activities Association.

"We're living with the decision, but we're very disappointed," said Pattonville's activities director, Terry Funderburk. "I think the schools that voted in favor of this had no idea of what the ramifications would be."

Safety was not the primary concern, officials said. For example, an incident similar to the one involving the Southern Illinois University cheerleader who fell at the Missouri Valley Tournament this spring would fall under the activities association's jurisdiction because it took place during a game, not at a competition.

Nancy Allen, a retired teacher and cheerleading coach at Parkway and co-founder of the Missouri Cheerleading Coaches Association, said the decision sets Missouri cheerleading back decades. Cheerleading advocates have struggled for years to have cheerleading recognized as a sport. Many state high school associations, including Illinois', govern competitive cheerleading.

This seems like an incredibly short-sighted decision. This will affect not only the caliber of young people-- we are beginning to see some male as well as female cheerleaders around here, especially as some of the routines require a lot of lifting-- who try out for cheerleading, but it also throws off the balance that has to be maintained under Title IX between male and female athletes. The competition was what made cheerleading a sport. If cheerleaders are reduced to standing along the sidelines of other sports, that can hardly been seen as a truly athletic activity. The routines cheerleaders put together for competition are often too elaborate to be properly showcased along the sidelines of football or basketball games. Cheerleading will be reduced once more to merely part of the adulation for the boys on the court or field, instead of as an endeavor worthy of respect in its own right.


At 6/14/06, 11:00 AM, Blogger Fred said...

My daughter is a cheerleader, and she works her tail off. She's the "flyer", always in the air doing some sort of stunt.

There's always cheerleading competition, but those squads cost big bucks. Cheerleading in school is a great way for these kids to stay involved.

At 6/14/06, 12:27 PM, Blogger Smithie said...

I worked for the University Of Kentucky Athletic Department while in grad-school. They are VERY proud of their multi-national championchip cheerleading squad, though I don't think the NCAA recognizes it as a sport either (no NCAA scholarships etc...). The "new" cheerleaders deserve the recognition as a "sport" as they ar MUCH more than those snobby socialites we remember.

What do you think those Missouri folks are affraid of?

At 6/14/06, 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While this is not necessarily about cheerleaders, it's definitely about how differently schools look at girls' sports vs. boys' sports. The boys' basketball team won the state championship a few years back. There were signs all over the community congratulating them and showing support. The school held assemblies before and after they attended the championship game. Students were let out of class to go see the boys' buses off.

This year, the girls won the state softball championship. Not one local business put up a congratulations message. Students didn't go see them off before the game, and the school did not have one assembly to show the girls their support. It's one (sad) thing for the community to treat the girls differently, but for the school to do the same after all the players' hard work? Shameful.

Also, this school does not treat cheerleading as a sport, but neither do many schools from my county. They actually banned flips and such at my old high school for liability reasons. Too bad they didn't ban the extra short skirts and barely-there uniforms as well.

At 6/14/06, 9:44 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

It just seems meanspirited and sexist. Yes, sexist.

I really don't think those schools that voted for this thought about the ramifications, as the one guy in the article said.

At 6/16/06, 1:14 AM, Blogger Deb Sistrunk Nelson said...

Thanks for bringing this subject to our attention. Boo, indeed!

At 6/21/06, 1:38 PM, Blogger Mr. Fuller said...

As the husband of a cheer coach, I can fully attest to the athleticism of the sport. It's no more dangerous than football, and requires a heckuva lot more talent than bowling and golf (two sports I went varisty on in high school).

I've also argued the issue of reverse discrimination in cases where boys are kept off cheerleading teams. But that's another issue altogether...

At 6/21/06, 5:46 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Barry, I actually (unintentionally) encouraged not just one but three of my young men to try out for cheerleading during a class discussion (I mentioned that young men could write their own ticket, since there were so few of them, and it might help pay for college, and that the formations being used now really screamed out for strength, and the rest is history).

Some praise me for this. More blame me. I think it's cool that they're cheerleaders. Equal opportunity for all!

At 6/21/06, 7:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am more concerned about the respect of the female athletes, than just the idea of cheer being cut. The football team at my high school (town I still live in) alternately sucks and is decent. On the other hand the girls softball and both soccer teams regularly kick butt.

Who do you think gets all the newspaper coverage, radio airtime, money for uniforms, field and equipment?

Don't get me started on the inequality of arts vs. sports.

At 6/21/06, 9:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It gets into some very strange areas. On one hand, the best cheering squads are often from private programs in our area. The cheerleaders in the public schools can be dedicated and talented, but they can also be very bossy and into some serious things that are overlooked due to their status. In my son's school, the cheerleaders were caught drinking on the field during a game while they were doing stunts. Sure they were made to resign their positions, but in the mean time their parents railed against a penalty that any other kid would have recieved in similar circumstances. I have also seen a situation where cheerleaders jumped and beat up a girl, but were not arrested and not charged due to fear of retribution. These instances were NOT in an urban setting ,but in an upscale suburban neighborhood. My own kids, involved in drama and band, avoided this crowd like the plague. The stories of keggers for Sweet Sixteens abound in the area mostly of this group. So while some of the girls are great tumblers and athletes, there is also this problem with the status that cheerleading confers. As a teacher, I DREAD having cheerleaders in my class because my experiences with them have been very negative in regards to effort and attitude. I am sure this isn't the case overall, but for many teachers and parents on the outside, this is how the situation appears. As for not covering them for insurance, that is similar to the limitation on ariel stunts in Texas. After two or three serious injuries, the schools just weren't willing to take a risk at someone dying during a routine stunt. After all, they are still just kids.

At 6/22/06, 5:51 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I would say that I certainly saw some not nice Oklahoma cheerleaders growing up. This often happens with football teams as well, where their misdeeds are overlooked due to the worship of football in certain parts of the country.

However, Lady S brings up a point close to my heart. I believe that the school districts around here previously supported the athleticization of cheerleading as a relatively painless way to comply with Title IX.

What I am afraid will happen is this: soon someone will sue, pointing out the continued disparity of funding and opportunities between boys' and girls' sports. Unfortunately, what often happens in this case is that a boys' team is cut, causing resentment against the girls, as if the disparity is their fault. Wrestling or the boys' swim team or some other less publicized sport gets the axe, an it' all because of those butch girls, who really have no future in pro sports anyway, or so the reasoning goes. If only they would be grateful with the crumbs we throw them, and go fade away!

My high school offered girls' basketball, girls' softball, and girls' track. That was it. About sixty girls in the entire school got to participate in school-sponsored athletics. These were the dark ages. We certainly don't want to go back to that.

This move seems a step back toward those days.


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