Cheerleading the crux of Title IX disagreement

by Jerry Campany on September 2, 2016

The debate on whether competitive cheerleading is a sport could put football's new playoff format in danger. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

The debate on whether competitive cheerleading is a sport could put football’s new playoff format in danger. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

In today’s Star-Advertiser, gender equity advocate Jill Nunokawa cautions the HHSAA against diving headlong into its restructured format for the football state tournament, citing a lack of a Title IX study.

Paul Honda‘s full story can be read here (subscription required).

The HHSAA counters by saying it did its due diligence where Title IX is concerned.

The sticking point between the two sides, as Dave Reardon pointed out in his column, seems to be whether competitive cheerleading counts as a varsity sport. The HHSAA counts girls who compete in the co-ed sport for gender equity reasons, Title IX experts say they can’t.

The HHSAA has considered competitive cheerleading a sport since it joined the list of sanctioned events in 2002.

That goes against the thought nationally, where an appeals court agreed with a U.S. District court that cheerleading did not have requirements to be called a varsity sport in 2012. That has been the rule of the land ever since even though it involved a college rather than a high school.

That suit was brought by the volleyball coach at Quinnipiac University, who fought against the school disbanding the women’s volleyball program in favor of competitive cheerleading. The school decided to keep both programs after the ruling.

According to the courts, an activity can be considered a sport if it has coaches, practices, competes during a defined season and has a governing organization while having competition as its primary goal.

While Quinnipiac didn’t have those things when it took it to court, Hawaii has complied with all five from the start. But if the HHSAA is called on to present it in a court of law, it would have to get a judge to agree.

Back when the precedent was set, the court wrote the following about competitive cheerleading:

“Like the district court, we acknowledge record evidence showing that competitive cheerleading can be physically challenging, requiring competitors to possess `strength, agility, and grace. Similarly, we do not foreclose the possibility that the activity, with better organization and defined rules, might someday warrant recognition as a varsity sport. But, like the district court, we conclude that the record evidence shows that `that time has not yet arrived.”‘

The HHSAA says that time arrived in Hawaii a long time ago.

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