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Gender equity group proceeds with lawsuit against FHSAA

A gender equity group filed a lawsuit against the Florida High School Athletic Association and asked for a temporary injunction Tuesday to stop perceived violations of Title IX and discrimination against female athletes.

The suit is in response to the FHSAA's April vote to cut varsity sports by 20 percent and JV by 40 percent, excluding football and cheerleading.

The action taken in a federal division of a Jacksonville court by Florida Parents for Athletic Equity asks to rescind the cuts or to make them gender equitable. It also asked the court to make cheerleading a true sport in terms of competitions and objective judging criteria.

FPAE representative Nancy Hogshead-Makar said if an injunction is granted schools would be allowed to return to full scheduling for the time being.

"Of all the parents and athletic directors and coaches I've talked to, the main objective is to get the cuts rescinded," Hogshead-Makar said.

Meanwhile, FHSAA chief financial officer Linda Robertson sent an e-mail to board members on behalf of executive director Roger Dearing. In a copy obtained by the St. Petersburg Times, she said FHSAA legal counsel Leonard Ireland has secured the services of a legal expert to advise the FHSAA, indicating a possible showdown in court.

FPAE and the FHSAA had previously agreed to work on a compromise, but a deadline came and went last week without any action.

FPAE says football's exemption protects roughly 36,000 boys compared with 4,600 female cheerleaders, which the group views as grossly unjust.

Dearing is out of the office until Monday and will not comment or take any action until his return, according to Robertson.

"I think them getting counsel and being a little distrustful of me, that's fine," Hogshead-Makar said. "It doesn't make anybody in the state of Florida feel warm and fuzzy about high school athletics."

Pasco County athletic director Phil Bell said his schools would stay the course of the current scheduling limitations pending a final ruling.

"We typically would follow what the FHSAA has done," Bell said. "That's what we did when they went to the game reductions. Those are the maximums they are going to allow."

Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson said the decision to resume scheduling in the event of a temporary injunction would be up to the superintendent.

Some Hillsborough schools were already under the maximums allotted by the state during the 2008-09 school year. Volleyball, for example, was permitted 25 maximum contests, but just 13 games were scheduled by Hillsborough County. Teams were permitted an additional 12 tournament games not including the postseason, though some schools passed.

And before schedule reduction, Hillsborough schools looked at ways to cut in all areas.

"We were considering everything," Robinson said. "With the budget situation being what it was we were having to consider no athletic programs to no change to the athletic programs. We didn't know what the budget was going to look like."

Pinellas County athletic director Nick Grasso did not return calls seeking comment.

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@sptimes.com.

Gender equity group proceeds with lawsuit against FHSAA 06/16/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 6:43am]
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