Cheerleading as a Title IX Sport in High Schools: How it Could Happen

July 22, 2010

If cheerleading were a Title IX Sport, how would it affect safety and stunting? Photo taken at the 2009 NKCCA competition, courtesy of AllProImages.net

If cheerleading were a Title IX Sport, how would it affect safety and stunting? Photo taken at the 2009 NKCCA competition, courtesy of AllProImages.net

Yesterday, in light of the recent ruling against competitive cheer counting towards Title IX requirements, Cheer Cincy clarified a few things about college cheerleading as a sport.

(To sum it up: It’s pretty much impossible for sideline cheerleading to be classified as a sport by the Office for Civil Rights and the NCAA, but all-star type cheerleading is another story. That’s because squads need to prove that competing is their primary function, and attend competitions just as regularly as soccer and football teams do. Squads at several universities have already established the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association, which they hope will develop into the NCAA version of competitive cheer.)

But most cheerleaders in this country aren’t on the college level – they’re in high school or younger. And cheerleading as a sport in high schools would look a bit different than cheerleading as a sport in college.

High school sports are regulated by state high school athletic associations. Each state has its own association (such as the OHSAA in Ohio), each with its own list of official sports and rules, and only a handful of them recognize cheerleading as a sport. However, individual high schools often classify cheerleading as a varsity sport anyway, just like colleges can classify cheerleading as a varsity sport without it being officially recognized by the NCAA. Without the recognition of the state associations, though, statewide rules and regulations aren’t enforced, and cheerleading rules vary quite a bit in practice.

For our purposes, let’s pretend that all state high school athletic associations added cheerleading to their lists of official sports.

That would mean your squad would likely have to comply with whatever regulations your state has in place for all its other sports. That could affect several things, such as when you can start and end the season (you might not be able to go to cheerleading camp in July, for example) and how far you can travel to competitions (many states have regulations in place for budgetary reasons).

Also, Title IX still applies to high school sports. It’s not checked on and enforced as regularly as it is in colleges, but the same legal standards apply – meaning that state associations and schools would have to prove that cheerleading’s main purpose was competition, and that it was administered and structured just like their other school sports. So, just like in the college scenario, sideline cheer would have to exist as a separate activity or club sport, while competitive cheer received the official sport label.

(As we know, cheerleading isn’t often structured like other sports on the high school level, yet it’s still counted as one. If someone legally challenged an association or school’s gender equity practices in such a situation, cheerleading would likely be stripped of its sport status there, says Erin Buzuvis, associate professor at the Western New England College of Law and author of The Title IX Blog.)

However, high school cheerleaders could theoretically cheer on a sideline squad and a competitive squad at the same time, while a college cheerleader could not. High-schoolers often participate in multiple extra-curricular activities at once, Buzuvis notes. “Just as you can imagine a high school football player being president of student council, you could be on both squads,” she says.

Again, like in the college scenario, that means that sideline cheerleading would basically remain the same. Safety requirements would also be the same, unless you assume that as states added competitive, all-star style cheer as a sport, the basic knowledge of best practices and safety procedures would likely become more prevalent in sideline cheer, as well.

So, if making cheerleading safer is the main concern, as it is for many advocates, what’s the best way to do it? Here are a few ideas.

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