Congress passed Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments in an absent-minded moment of feel-good political correctness. Nobody, after all, wants little girls to be denied equal opportunities to participate in school athletic programs.
Of course, no one realized just where all this would eventually lead, or that the definition of “fairness” that wound up being applied would be that proposed by the craziest parent with the biggest chip on the shoulder.
Whitney Point is one of 14 high schools in the Binghamton area that began sending cheerleaders to girls’ games in late November, after the mother of a female basketball player in Johnson City, N.Y., filed a discrimination complaint with the United States Department of Education. She said the lack of official sideline support made the girls seem like second-string, and violated Title IX’s promise of equal playing fields for both sexes.
But the ruling has left many people here and across the New York region booing, as dozens of schools have chosen to stop sending cheerleaders to away games, as part of an effort to squeeze all the home girls’ games into the cheerleading schedule.
Boys’ basketball boosters say something is missing in the stands at away games, cheerleaders resent not being able to meet their rivals on the road, and even female basketball players being hurrahed are unhappy.
In Johnson City, students and parents say they have accepted the change even as they question the need for it.
Several cheerleaders there recalled a game two years ago, long before the complaint, when the squad decided at the last minute to cheer for the girls’ team because a boys’ game was canceled.
The cheers drowned out directions from the girls’ coach, frustrated the players, and created so much tension that the cheerleaders left before halftime.
“They asked, ‘Why are you here?’ ” recalled Joquina Spence, 18, a senior cheerleader. “We told them, ‘We’re here to support you,’ and it was a problem because they kept yelling at us.”
But, as the New York State Public High School Athletic Association warned in a letter to its 768 members in November, the education department determined that cheerleaders should be provided “regardless of whether the girls’ basketball teams wanted and/or asked for” them.
The ruling followed a similar one in September in the Philadelphia suburbs, and comes as high schools nationwide are redefining the role of cheerleaders in response to parental and legal pressures as well as growing sensitivity to sexism among athletic directors, especially as more women step into those roles.
Federal education officials would not specify how many Title IX complaints concerning cheerleading the Office for Civil Rights is investigating. But a spokesman said the department received 64 complaints nationwide last year concerning unequal levels of publicity given to girls’ and boys’ teams — which includes the issue of cheerleading — most from New York state. That compares with a total of 28 such complaints over the previous four years.