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.