No immediate changes for Maryland after cheerleading ruling

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010; D02

The University of Maryland does not anticipate having to make any immediate changes to the composition of its athletic program after a federal judge in Connecticut ruled on Wednesday that competitive cheerleading does not count as an official sport that can be used to fulfill gender-equity requirements.

Maryland, which added competitive cheerleading as a varsity sport in 2003, said in a statement that it was aware of the judge's decision and that it has not yet completed its internal study of the ruling, "but since this district court is not within the Fourth Circuit, the ruling is not binding on the University of Maryland at this time."

Prior to Wednesday's decision, Maryland was one of four schools in the country that included competitive cheerleading as a Division I varsity sport and was one of seven schools nationally that use competitive cheerleading as a means to satisfy federal law -- commonly referred to as Title IX -- that prohibits gender discrimination at educational institutions, according to Sheila Noone, a spokeswoman for the National Cheerleaders Association.

Five female Quinnipiac University volleyball players and their coach filed a lawsuit against the school in 2009 after the university announced plans to cut three sports, including women's volleyball. Subsequently, the school announced it would create a varsity cheerleading squad beginning in the 2009-10 season.

U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill said Wednesday that Quinnipiac University violated Title IX by failing to provide equal athletic opportunities to its female student-athletes. Underhill gave Quinnipiac 60 days to formulate a plan to correct the situation, and a school spokesman said Thursday the university will add women's rugby at the start of the 2011-12 season.

Underhill also ruled that the school must keep women's volleyball at least through the 2010-11 season in order to comply with Title IX.

Noone said Thursday that Underhill's ruling applied only to Quinnipiac and that the other six schools that use competitive cheerleading to fulfill Title IX requirements would not be forced to comply with the ruling in a similar fashion.

Kristen Galles, an Alexandria-based attorney who represented the Quinnipiac volleyball players along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and the law firm of Pullman & Comley, said that while Underhill's opinion is "influential to everyone else, it's only binding for those within his district."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company