Cheering for Equal Opportunity

February 14, 2017

Guided by the spirit of Title IX, the Michigan High School Athletic Association created girls competitive cheer in 1993 for the express purpose of providing an additional winter sport for girls to equalize athletic opportunities between the sexes. Before that, girls in Michigan had fewer athletic opportunities in the winter than in fall or spring and fewer athletic opportunities than boys overall.

Like all girls sports under MHSAA regulations, participation in MHSAA Girls Competitive Cheer Tournaments has been limited to girls. Since the 1977-78 school year (after a team of four boys won an Illinois High School Association girls state bowling championship), the MHSAA Handbook has included the following rule: “Boys may not participate on a girls team in MHSAA sponsored postseason meets and tournaments.” The MHSAA also encourages member schools not to permit boys to participate on girls teams during regular season play.

Without a policy prohibiting boys from displacing girls from teams and from the playing surface, athletic opportunities for girls would be in serious jeopardy, as many courts examining this issue have concluded. In short, permitting boys to displace girls would be antithetical to the fundamental purpose of Title IX.

The overwhelming majority of federal and state courts have concluded that “no-boys-on-girls-teams” rules are lawful and necessary. These cases conclude that maintaining and promoting athletic opportunities for girls and redressing past discrimination against women in athletics are important objectives. And, second, they conclude that excluding boys from girls’ sports – even if girls may participate on boys’ teams – is substantially related to that important interest.

Case law provides two separate, simple explanations; each of which, standing alone, establishes the legitimacy of the rule. First, having all-girl teams creates or maintains opportunities for females that would not otherwise exist, thereby providing females opportunity to develop programs equal to boys.

Second, because there are recognized, innate physiological differences between the sexes that give boys inherent advantages in most athletic events, to permit boys to participate on girls’ teams – irrespective of the sport – would displace girls from competition to a substantial extent, thereby diminishing female opportunity in athletics.

  • A federal court in a Tennessee case wrote in 1977: “[it] takes little imagination to realize that were play and competition not separated by sex, the great bulk of females would quickly be eliminated from participation and denied any meaningful opportunity for athletic involvement.” 
  • A federal court in Arizona wrote in 1989: “If males are permitted to displace females ... even to the extent of one player ..., the goal of equal participation by females in interscholastic athletics is set back, not advanced.”

The MHSAA created girls competitive cheer expressly to provide overall equal athletic opportunity for girls that did not exist before it was added as an MHSAA sport. That a boy now wishes to participate on a girls competitive cheer team, despite the abundance of athletic opportunities for boys in other sports, does not establish a violation of Title IX. And Title IX has never been so construed. The MHSAA’s rule creates for girls the opportunity to enjoy highly competitive athletic opportunity in the same number of sports as boys – precisely satisfying Title IX.

The MHSAA made its move toward girls competitive cheer two decades before entrepreneurs invented coed “stunt” for schools’ and colleges’ consideration. By that time, participation in girls competitive cheer had tripled in Michigan high schools. Girls competitive cheer is now the eighth-most popularly sponsored high school sport in Michigan, above sports like tennis, golf and swimming & diving which had a 20-year head start.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.