ACLU Says MHSAA Cheerleading Rules Banning Males are Unconstitutional

June 23, 2006

DETROIT In a letter to the Michigan High School Athletic Association, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and more than 600 other signers urged the association to reform new regulations that would ban male cheerleaders from any post season competition.

These new regulations, effective August 1, 2006, allow young men to practice with the team during the season, but force the team to compete without them in post season tournaments. For many schools this becomes a waste of time and resources and consequently the schools may choose to prohibit young men from joining the team altogether.

“This isn’t just about giving students and opportunity to cheer in high school,” said Michael Steinberg, Legal Director of ACLU of Michigan. “This is about the future of both male and female cheerleaders in Michigan, it’s about their college careers and it’s about their rights as afforded by Title IX. The MHSAA should not be in the business of working against students by limiting their opportunities.”

The ACLU contends that such restrictions are in direct violation the constitution and Title IX, which bars schools receiving federal financial assistance from excluding students from participation in any program or activity based on their sex. 

Aside from violating the students’ rights, the MHSAA is effectively denying them the opportunity to develop skills that they may use in college or professionally. Students of both genders cheerlead in college, and may even receive athletic scholarships.  However, with theses regulations, only girls are guaranteed the chance to learn the necessary skills at their high schools.

Girls as well as boys  face serious implications as a result of this ban. High schools in almost all other states have co-educational cheerleading, as do most colleges and universities.  Therefore, eliminating co-ed teams negatively affects many young women who wish to cheerlead after high school by depriving them of the skills necessary to join coed university or professional teams.

“If I have two candidates whose tumbling skills and arm motions are similar but one has coed stunting experience, I would always go with the one who has coed experience. And all of the elite college teams are coed,” said Wes Wooley, Hope College Cheerleading Coach.

Before the changes, the Plymouth-Canton School District cheerleading team, coed since 1993, was successful in preparing cheerleaders of both sexes for college. Since the program began, 50 of its male cheerleaders have gone on to cheer in college, many with significant athletic scholarships.  The new MHSAA rules will simply take these opportunities away from high school boys.

“Whether male or female we just want to be given a fair opportunity to develop our skills just like every other cheerleader across the U.S.,” said Eric Obuchowski, a senior at Salem High School who will not be able to cheerlead if the regulations take effect in August.

The letter contends that “while other (Michigan) high school athletic teams assist players in developing valuable talents that are useful in future forums, school cheerleading teams will waste time and money teaching skills that have no relevant application after high school.”

In a related subject the ACLU also asks the MHSAA to revisit its MHSAA Eligibility Rules, which state that “students shall not compete at any time in a sport under MHSAA jurisdiction in all-star contests or national championships, regardless of the method of selection. Participation in such a program shall cause that student to become ineligible for a maximum period of one year.”

High school student athletes often participate in competitive travel sports outside of their schools in the off-season.  In fact, this is almost required of those who wish to become the best and most competitive athletes, and for those who wish to obtain college athletic scholarships.  There are similar opportunities in cheerleading, such as Elite Cheer, which uses the name “All Star” to describe its cheerleading teams.  However, this team is “All-Star” by name only and does not have a method of selection for these teams.

Despite the facts that Elite Cheer has no selection process, and that there are comparable opportunities in other sports that the MHSAA allows students to participate in, the MHSAA has said that high school athletes who participate in Elite Cheer’s All Star Teams must forfeit his or her right to play a high school sport. 

“The association is not just limiting boys’ involvement, but it’s limiting the girls’ ability to grow, compete and develop their skills in the long-term,” said Hillary Bracht, a senior at Canton High School. “Cheerleading is not just about rooting for your team on the sidelines; it involves a lot of hard-work. But with these new regulations, it doesn’t matter how much hard-work I put into it, I may not be able to have the opportunity to cheer in college.”

The more than 600 signers on the letter include cheerleaders, coaches, superintendents, school board members and concerned parents from throughout the state.