The Big Secret About Title IX and Competitive Cheer
It was in 2001 that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance allowing individual high schools to make that determination on their own. One year later, a Federal judge in Kalamazoo ordered that competitive cheer participants be counted under Title IX.
In 1975, those charged with Title IX policymaking promulgated the following:
“. . . drill teams, cheerleaders and the like . . . are not a part of the institution’s ‘athletic department’ within the meaning of the regulation.”
– US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, September 1975
The policy may have been justified at one time, but it is out of date and out of step with the modern world where sideline cheerleading has become highly athletic and competitive and in many places has evolved into its own, self-reliant and focused sport.
Such is the case, for example, in Michigan where the sport of competitive cheer draws as many participants and twice the spectators as high school gymnastics and skiing combined and has been deemed by the participants, their schools, their leagues and the Michigan High School Athletic Association to be a sport.
Correctly so, the Office for Civil Rights has permitted high schools to make the determination that competitive cheer is a sport.
“The material tends to support in several ways the characterization of MHSAA-sanctioned competitive cheerleading as a Title IX sport in that it specifies the season of sport, identifies the eligibility requirements and standardized judging criteria used by registered officials, notes the availability of some state and conference championships and scholarship monies, and certifies that this activity is recognized as a sport by MHSAA and interscholastic athletics conferences within Michigan.”
– OCR Letter to MHSAA, Oct. 18, 2001
Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, concurred in the ESPN.com Timeout Chat Show on June 19, 2002:
“Cheerleading could be considered or counted as a sport if the cheerleading team’s primary purpose is to compete.”
In Michigan, that is the sole purpose of girls competitive cheer.
On Aug. 1, 2002, the US District Court in Kalamazoo, MI ordered competitive cheer to be included in the calculation of female participants in high school athletics in Michigan.
In Michigan, there is no rational argument for the proposition that MHSAA girls competitive cheer is not a sport.
And in my mind, there’s no rational argument that competitive cheer shouldn’t be recognized as a sport in every single American high school, college and university that wants to form a team. If it can work in Michigan, it can work in Connecticut and the rest of the nation too.