Tam’s cheerleading team began cheering for the girls varsity basketball team for the first time in over 20 years, on February 6, after the administration received complaints from a parent about potential Title IX violations. Going forward, the administration will require that cheerleaders adjust their schedule to attend an equal amount of boys and girls games during the basketball season.
“Let’s say the cheerleaders show up and cheer for the boys on a Tuesday night, then on a Thursday night game of that week they should be cheering for the girls,” assistant principal David Rice said. This new cheerleading schedule is an effort to spread school spirit equally across both genders and provide a similar experience at games. It also fulfills Tam’s legal obligation to Title IX, a law that enforces equal opportunities in school-funded sports for all students, whether they are male or female.
Tam High parent and Mill Valley attorney Jennifer Sheetz brought the situation to the administration’s attention as being a possible violation of Title IX. “It’s always been weird to me, the fact that growing up, my high school didn’t have a girls soccer team, so I had to play with the boys. It’s even weirder now, because it’s 2018 and there still aren’t equal opportunities for girls,” Sheetz said. She was watching the Tam vs. Marin Catholic girls varsity game a few weeks ago with a group of sixth graders, including her daughter, when one of them asked, “Why aren’t the cheerleaders cheering?”
“It just made me realize how unfair, discriminatory and even offensive it was, and this was when I decided to call the school,” Sheetz said. “While this was going on, the girls on the team, especially the seniors, actually started to say how it had always upset them that nobody ever supported them. They always felt a little stupid saying it out loud and thought it was petty to mention it, so they never did, but when this happened they all felt like they should’ve done something sooner.”
Many factors contributed to the absence of cheerleaders at the girls games, one of them being the school’s lack of cheerleading coaches, meaning that it could only field one cheerleading squad.
When the cheerleading program was reformed at Tam eight years ago, after a multi-year absence, it started out with six girls, according to cheerleading coach Danielle Hirsch. The team has slowly grown since, with 18 girls on the team last year and 24 this year. However, there is only one coach, which makes it difficult for the team to continue to expand. Hirsch added that with more coaches, a larger team would be possible, and the cheerleaders would have been able to cheer for the girls much earlier on.
Hirsch has been looking forward to cheering for the girls since she took over the team this year. “We’ve always been excited to [cheer for them], the only thing is I’m just one person, and we didn’t have another coach,” Hirsch said. “An assistant coach could be a possibility. They would just have to be cleared by the district, but I’m still in search of one. I’m thrilled we were able to make this happen anyway.”
Next year, the plan is to have two cheerleading squads that will be able to cheer for both teams, ensuring that there will always be a squad available, regardless of the teams playing. “This way, we’ll be able to provide the same atmosphere for both genders,” Rice said.
In doing so, there is a chance that fewer resources will be devoted to the boys varsity basketball team. “I’d be fine with it,” senior boys varsity basketball player Jack Coen said. “My team is focused on the game when we are playing. It’s not like we don’t know the cheerleaders are supporting us, which we appreciate, it’s just that we are concentrated on playing at that time.”
Girls varsity basketball players were enthusiastic about the new cheerleading support. “We’re all really happy,” freshman girls varsity basketball player Emma Bowser said. “The cheerleaders bring a whole new energy, and because not a lot of people come to our games, it’s new and different to have other students supporting us.”