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Friday, February 18, 2005
 

Does Making Cheerleading a Varsity Sport Count Towards Title IX?

The University of Maryland needed to add two women's sports to bring its athletic department within the requirements of Title IX. In the end, it rejected ice hockey and rowing and added water polo and cheerleading. So now, the Maryland cheerleaders are varsity athletes. Note that this is not the men and women that stand on the sideline during football games -- that is the "spirit squad." Rather, these are competitive cheerleaders -- perhaps you have seen them on ESPN2 -- that perform in competitions around the nation.

Many Title IX advocates fail to see the distinction and claim that Maryland added the two most inexpensive sports, while failing to add the more costly ice hockey and rowing. After all, bathing suits for water polo and cheerleading uniforms are far less expensive than the boats for rowing and hockey equipment. The opponents also argue that the program is "disingenuous," noting that many of the team's required 8-10 competitions have come against high school squads or non-Division I opponents.

It seems that one cannot win on either side of this argument. If you ever tell a cheerleader that cheering is not a sport, you are likely to get a pom-pom upside the head. But now, the advocates for equality in women's athletics tell us that cheerleading, even competitive cheerleading, should not count. And why? Because it does not cost as much as other sports. Because it is not a "traditional" sport. Because there are better alternatives. These seem like bad reasons to fight against making a sport varsity.

Perhaps it has more to do with the common perception of cheerleading: that it is the "girls" getting into dresses and standing by on the sideline while the "boys" actually play the game. It seems to me, though, that one of the best ways to dispel this stereotype is through a move like the one at Maryland. Many may never believe that cheering is a sport, but the myth will certainly not be debunked if the primary advocates of Title IX continue to reinforce it.





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