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FHSAA works on bringing competitive cheerleading to Florida; Schools first must meet requirements

By Staff | Mar 20, 2008

The Florida High School Athletic Association has been working with school districts across the state to bring competitive cheerleading to high schools. By doing so, the FHSAA is bringing a sideline activity to the level of a sanctioned athletic competition.

In order for competitive cheerleading to be implemented across the state and in Lee County, the FHSAA has to ensure that requirements set out by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are satisfied.

These requirements, to name a few, include objective team selection, whether it is limited to a defined season; whether it is administered by an athletic department; or whether state, national and conference championships exist for the activity.

If schools satisfy these requirements, they will be considered compliant with Title IX — an act passed in 1972 barring any discrimination based on sex.

According to Frances Haithcock, the chancellor for public schools, in her letter to school superintendents across the state, “All schools and districts that submit competitive cheerleading as a sport on the Annual Equity Report and Updates does so as certification that all specified requirements are being followed.”

According to John Stewart, executive director for the FHSAA, “We have met all necessary criteria for FHSAA Competitive Cheerleading to be considered a sport.”

Of course, the Office for Civil Rights still chooses to look at schools on a case-by-case basis if a complaint is filed and an investigation would have to be done.

Competitive cheerleading can be considered particularly controversial in regards to Title IX because it is a sport where the majority of participants are female, although the number of males beginning to participate is increasing substantially.

On the other hand, it would provide a sanctioned sport for females that will no longer be considered a “sideline activity” supporting other athletic teams. Being a sport, it might also provide another venue for college opportunities for high school students.

“Most cheerleading is done by girls, some boys also do it, but it has to fall under Title IX, which is all about equity,” said Cheryl Edders, information specialist with the Florida Department of Education.

According to Bob Plageman, director of athletics at Cape Coral High School, the Seahawks are currently not participating in competitive cheerleading. They are waiting to see how it turns out in other districts across the state.

“It’s up to the superintendent and the principals to decide, but I could see it in another year,” said Plageman. “There will probably be a lot of parental pressure.”