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Critics Say Cheerleaders' Antics Were Blushers : Powder-Puff Games Vanish After Makeup Is Changed

February 05, 1989|SAM ENRIQUEZ | Times Staff Writer

After months of fretful study and consultation with attorneys, the Los Angeles Unified School District has made a ruling: Boys will be boys.

District officials this year issued a rule prohibiting high school boys from dressing up as female cheerleaders at powder-puff football games. As a result, the once-popular games--where the girls battle it out on the field while the boys lead the cheers--have all but died out.

What's become clear in the months following the district's ruling is that students simply are not interested in taking part in a watered-down version of tradition.

"We decided it's no fun if the guys can't dress up as girls," said Paul Geller, El Camino Real High School senior class president.

Geller said his class organized an ice-skating party last week instead of holding its annual January powder-puff game. "But you can't really compare the two things," he said. "Everyone was really upset that we couldn't have the game."

District officials said having boys dress up as female cheerleaders violates Title IX, a federal law that bans schools from discriminating on the basis of sex.

The ruling, in a memo sent to high schools in September, allows the games but forbids boys from dressing as girls and especially from "using props under their clothing which represent female anatomical features," the memo said. It was prompted by a complaint about a powder-puff game held during the 1987-88 school year, officials said.

Use of Balloons

"We received a complaint that at one school in particular, the boys were imitating women, using balloons to make their breasts extremely large and behaving in a manner that some would call humorous but others could view as offensive and even obscene," said Connie LaFace-Olson, director of the district's Commission for Sex Equity.

School administrators had been uneasy about the games, which in recent years have become increasingly raucous, LaFace-Olson said. But the last straw was the complaint that boys were squeezing each others' balloons, LaFace-Olson said.

The incident sparked several months of study and deliberation by the district's Title IX office and the 29-member Commission for Sex Equity, which advises the district on sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, LaFace-Olson said. This year, the commission also prohibited schools from allowing boys and girls to wear different colored graduation gowns because of a complaint last year, she said.

Title IX, passed by Congress in 1972, has been used to force the expansion of women's athletic programs. The law gets its name from a section of the Education Amendments of 1972 passed to prohibit discrimination in schools that receive federal money.

But in the case of powder-puff football, district officials say the law also prohibits school-sponsored events that cause humiliation based on gender.

"If girls going to school are subjected to this activity, and they are ridiculed and made to feel like second-class citizens, then I think that constitutes discrimination," said Ada R. Treiger, a school district attorney.

The district also has rules to protect the civil rights of disabled and minority students, district officials said. "It's not OK to have one gender stereotyped by another," said Richard Browning, a senior high schools division administrator.

"The problem is that girls were being put down by boys wearing anatomical props . . . mimicking cheerleaders by putting balloons under their shirts," Browning said.

District officials won't identify where the complaint originated. "It was from a parent and student," LaFace-Olson said.

But students said the new rule is just another example of adults misunderstanding and interfering in high school social life.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Allen Porter, senior class president at Canoga Park High School, which decided to cancel its powder-puff game rather than comply with the district regulations. "It's been blown totally out of proportion."

Popular Games

In January, 1988, more than 300 students at El Camino Real went to the school's lunchtime powder-puff game, the last one played at Los Angeles schools in the San Fernando Valley, Geller said. Students this year were willing to fight the district rule to save the popular event but were told by an attorney "that we didn't have a chance against the district," he said.

"Just because some of the teachers and people at the district are offended, students don't feel that way," Geller said. "We weren't going out purposely to make fun of anybody; it was just a joke."

One of the few remaining holdouts in the district is Lincoln High School, where student adviser Ben Wadsworth said the annual powder-puff game will take place this month despite the new policy. He said his students have grumbled about it but have taken no action.

"Guys can participate as yell leaders and still do all the yelling and stunting and goofing around and even borrow sweater tops from girl yell leaders, but they'll be wearing slacks instead of skirts and no makeup," Wadsworth said.

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