University of Maryland Cuts Varsity Cheer Program
The Washington Post’s Liz Clarke reports that the University of Maryland (UMD) has cut its 9-year competitive cheerleading team because of budget. This development is especially devastating because UMD pioneered the recognition of cheerleading as a varsity sport and was one of only a handful of Division I schools to offer elevated status to participants.
The article’s headline (though likely not intentional) identifies the discussion that must take place: “Title IX anniversary: Maryland cuts cheerleading, but was it ever a sport?” Despite the hundreds of thousands of girls (and boys) that begin gymnastics-heavy, muscle-building cheerleading at young ages and compete both in school and privately-held competitions, the NCAA, Department of Education, the courts and Title IX activists do not recognize it as a varsity sport. As if people who hold this view needed any more buttressing, in 2010, a federal judge ruled that cheerleading is not a sport and that Quinnipiac could not add the program to comply with Title IX.
In the Washington Post piece, quotes from Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and Donna Lopiano, former executive director of the Women’s Sport Foundation (WSF), are extremely telling, and quite frankly, sad, that they come from people whose professional careers are founded in encouraging girls to join physical and competitive activities:
Lopiano: “It was an ill-conceived notion, done for the wrong reason at the wrong time.”
Chaudhry, re: Quinnipiac cheer ruling: “Broadly speaking, that case sent a message to other schools that were counting cheer for Title IX purposes and suggested they take a close look at their programs… ‘We’re not there yet’ is what the judge effectively said.”
To which we say: REALLY? Why is competitive cheerleading, supported by throngs of young women who have dedicated their lives to it and risk an array of catastrophic injuries every time they hit the mats, not an eligible candidate for varsity? It’s about time we let schools, not activists or government bureaucrats, decide varsity status for cheer; they should factor safety into their decision. When those in power are finally ready to sit down to talk Title IX reform, changing the rules on cheerleading will definitely be on the to-do list.