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Anticipating the future bathroom-related litigation

It will be a matter of when, not if, should a bathroom bill passes.

[B]oth sides agree if any version of the bathroom bill becomes law, it will likely trigger a protracted legal battle that could have implications for the transgender community in Texas and nationwide.

“If it does in fact pass, it will be a big test for civil rights organizations,” said Anthony Kreis, an assistant professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law. “It will also be a huge, landmark case in the courts to test the scope and limits of transgender rights in this county.

Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 91, authored by Brenham Republican Lois Kolkhorst, are nearly identical. They would both require public and charter schools to ensure that every multiple-occupancy bathroom, shower and locker room “be designated for and used only by persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

A few schools in Texas allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, according to Joy Baskin, legal director for the Texas Association of School Boards. But Kolkhorst’s bills would force trans girls, for example, who are born male but identify as female to use either a private, single-stall bathroom or the boys’ restroom.

School districts would also not be able to protect athletes from discrimination, unless they are already covered under state or federal law, such as Title IX. Courts in other parts of the country have ruled Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination against female athletes also apply to transgender students. But there’s been no similar decision that applies here in Texas.

The University Interscholastic League, which regulates most high school sports, already segregates competition based on the sex listed on an athlete’s birth certificate. This year, it famously barred a transgender boy from wrestling other boys; he went on to win the girls state title.

[…]

Legal experts agreed that while the legislation won’t create a state-funded “potty police,” it will likely land Texas in the courtroom if it becomes law.

Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, questioned the legality of Kolkhorst’s bills as well as two pieces of legislation pending debate in the House.

The House bills, pushed by Carrollton Republican Ron Simmons, are far narrower and seek to shift the power over regulating bathroom from municipalities and schools to the state government.

But TASB’s Baskin says Simmons’ schools bill won’t require them to change their current policies because it would not force trans kids out of the multi-stall restrooms that match their gender identity. Simmons disagrees, but understands most schools are already only providing single-stall bathrooms for trans kids.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has called the bathroom debate unnecessary and the legislation anti-business, but one of Simmons’ two bathroom bills already has more than 40 Republican co-sponsors in that chamber.

Carpenter said the Senate bills would be more susceptible to a legal challenge because they restrict rights based on biological sex and gender identity. The House bills don’t explicitly use these terms or limit bathroom use based on “birth certificate,” so they’d be tougher to fight in court, he said.

“The (Senate) bill, it seems to me, is directly aimed at preventing people from using restrooms associated with their gender identity,” Carpenter said. “But, no matter which of these laws passes, it will probably be challenged.”

Obviously, it would be best if it didn’t come to that, but best to be prepared for the worst. My assumption has been that there will be more than one lawsuit, as there will be multiple angles to attack this from. The fact themselves that the bills being considered seem to have a lot of loopholes and room for broad interpretation is also an invitation to litigate. Like so many other things the Lege and our Republican leaders have deemed to be top priorities, this will be tied up in the courts for years.

But first, there’s the hard work to try to stop these bills from becoming law, and a big part of that is the public testimony against them. One takeaway from the fight over HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and the Supreme Court eventually invalidated, was how much the public testimony contributed to the court case, by showing how indifferent and willfully ignorant the Republicans were to objective fact and contradictory evidence. I feel pretty confident the same sort of thing will happen here with the potty bills, if they make it to the finish line. There’s live coverage of the hearings in the Trib, and there’s plenty of activity going on outside and around the Capitol, as the Texas Association of Business runs anti-bathroom bill ads and the national Episcopal Church comes out against the bills. It’s never a bad idea to call your legislator and let them know how you feel, so make your voice heard. And remember, in the end, the one message every politician receives is losing an election. The Observer, BurkaBlog, the Current, the Rivard Report, and Texas Leftist have more.

UPDATE: In the end, SB3 passed out of committee, as expected. On to the floor of the Senate, then it’s up to the House.

More on Mack Beggs

I like this kid.

In the wake of winning a controversial Texas state girls’ wrestling title over the weekend, Mack Beggs, a 17-year-old transgender wrestler, spoke to the need to “stay strong” while also calling on state policymakers to “change the laws and then watch me wrestle the boys.”

Beggs, who identifies as male, was dogged throughout the tournament by questions about whether his testosterone treatments made him too strong to wrestle fairly against girls. In an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Wednesday, Beggs said he was unfazed by the boos that rained down on him en route to the 110-pound championship, which capped an undefeated season for the Euless Trinity junior.

“I just heard the boos, but I heard more cheering,” Beggs told OTL. “Honestly, I was like, ‘You know what? Boo all you want, because you’re just hating. You hating ain’t going to get me and you nowhere, and I’m just going to keep on doing what I’ve got to do.’

“That’s why I’ve always had that mentality. If you’re going to be negative, you know, whatever, that’s not going to faze me.”

Beggs, who says he has been taunted with slurs such as “f—-t” and “it,” cited the testosterone as a reason for the boos, as well as ignorance and a lack of understanding on the part of his critics.

“I mean, I’ve been winning before when I didn’t have testosterone, but now that, you know, I’m actually winning winning, people want to go crazy,” Beggs said. He added that some people “just automatically want to call me a cheater.”

“Like that kind of makes me feel like they don’t care about my training or the work that I put in,” he continued. “Because I’ve been to [state] twice. And it’s not like I’m just doing this because I want to like call myself a boy and just dominate all these girls. What do I get out of that? I don’t get anything out of that.”

Given the choice, Beggs said he would “definitely” want to wrestle boys, “because I’m a guy. It just makes more sense.”

See here for the background. Maybe someone should ask Dan Patrick why he wants to make Mack Beggs use the girls’ bathroom, as would be required under SB6. Of course, we know what a coward Patrick is, so there’s no chance he’d ever consent to speaking with Mack Beggs. But make no mistake, this is what Dan Patrick wants.

ThinkProgress adds an interesting wrinkle.

In Beggs’ home state of Texas, a bill that would ban transgender Texans from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity is being heard this week. Nationally, President Trump rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance about trans rights, allowing states more flexibility in how much—or how little—they accommodate transgender students.

On Sunday, Beggs addressed Trump’s actions in an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

“You know, people thought he was going to be an LGBT activist,” Beggs told ESPN. “That backfired on them. It just [sets] trans rights 10 times backwards. We’re just going to come back 20 times harder.”

Trump’s actions are particularly personal for Beggs, not only because of his own identity as a transgender boy, but also because his mother, Angela McNew, voted for Trump.

McNew has been supportive of her son’s transition, and in the past couple of weeks, has reportedly begun to wonder if voting for Trump was the right thing to do.

“I think on this journey [Trump] probably should step outside the box and think about all of these children and all of these people, that if you really look at them and the journey they’re taking, would you really put them in their birth certificate?” McNew told OTL reporter Tisha Thompson. “And honestly, who is going to be going by the bathrooms and checking I.D.?”

Beggs grew up attending an evangelical Christian church, and has been struggling to reconcile his upbringing with his current reality. His mother has defended her son to people in the church, some of whom have said she should go to jail for child abuse because God doesn’t make mistakes.

McNew is insistent that God didn’t make a mistake with Beggs — in fact, she believes that Beggs is fulfilling his purpose right now, as he fights for transgender rights on a national stage.

Yes, Dear Leader Trump is definitely a foe for transgender people. I hope Ms. McNew comes to recognize that, and that Dan Patrick is bad news for her and her son as well.

Mack Beggs

I guarantee, we have never paid as much attention to the Texas high school wrestling championships as we did this past weekend.

If the fervor over Euless Trinity transgender wrestler Mack Beggs during the last week could be swelled into one match, it was the junior’s final one at the state wrestling championships on Saturday.

Beggs, who is transitioning from female to male but competing as a girl because of a University Interscholastic League rule, won gold in the Class 6A 110-pound bracket after a 12-2 major decision win over Morton Ranch’s Chelsea Sanchez on Saturday at the Berry Center.

It caps a perfect season for Beggs (56-0), who easily won his four matches this weekend. Beggs defeated Clear Springs’ Taylor Latham in the first round by major decision, 18-7, and Tascosa’s Mya Engert by major decision, 12-4, in the quarterfinals Friday.

His semifinal win came against Grand Prairie’s Kailyn Clay via pin earlier Saturday.

The controversy surrounding Beggs deals with the testosterone treatments part of his transition, with some believing it is an unfair advantage although it is allowed by the UIL because it is administered by a physician and for medical reasons. Beggs also has been denied the request to compete in the boys division because of a new UIL rule that states athletes must compete under the gender on their birth certificate.

Beggs competed in the previous two state tournaments but he become a national story after two opponents forfeited their match against him at regionals last week.

After Saturday’s events, Beggs gave a statement to the media, deferring attention to his teammates.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my teammates,” Beggs said. “That’s honestly what the spotlight should’ve been on is my teammates. The hard work that I put in the practice room with them beside me, we trained hard every single day. That’s where the spotlight should’ve been on. Not me. All these guys. Because I would not be here without them.”

ESPN, Reuters, and the Washington Post (mirrored at the Texas Tribune) were among those covering the event. Here’s an earlier story in the Chron with some more details.

Beggs, 17, a junior at Euless’ Trinity High School, is transitioning from female to male, and because his birth certificate designates him as female, he was required under Texas high school regulations to compete against girls at the state meet here Friday and Saturday.

It’s a rule that represents a sharp departure from anything on the national or international level, and it’s not likely to go away. And so, as a senior in 2018, Beggs – and any other transgender athlete – is likely to face questions again about why a boy is competing against girls.

“Given the overwhelming support for that (birth certificate) rule, I don’t expect it to change anytime soon,” said Jamey Harrison, the deputy executive director for the University Interscholastic League, which governs high school competitions in Texas.

“Those decisions are made by our elective body who makes our rules. Again, they spoke. … These were superintendents who are members of the UIL. Ninety-five percent of them voted for the rule as is.”

Texas is one of seven states that require high school students to provide a birth certificate, proof of gender-reassignment surgery or documentation of hormone therapy, according to TransAthlete.com.

League officials said the UIL “strives to provide fair and equitable competitions for all students.” Harrison said the UIL is “following both what our legislative council wants to follow and certainly what the overwhelming majority of our school membership wants to follow.”

Harrison, while not mentioning Beggs by name, said Saturday night that the UIL stands by its birth certificate rule. However, he said the agency hopes to obtain legislative support that would allow it more leeway to police student-athletes who are using performance-enhancing drugs under a doctor’s care.

“The real issue here is the use of performance enhancing drugs,” Harrison said. “The UIL does not have the authority to tell a student they are ineligible if they are using a performance-enhancing drug under the supervision of a doctor, as written in state law. We look forward to working with lawmakers to fix that law.”

Harrison said he hopes the Legislature will help the UIL reach a better description of what constitutes a “valid medical reason” to use banned substances.

“Something that would be a little more proscriptive in what that means is something that I think that lawmakers will review, and we will be happy to work with lawmakers,” he said. “This is not about our birth certificate rule. This is about performance enhancing drug use.”

Others outside the UIL disagree, however. North Texas attorney and wrestling parent Jim Baudhuin earlier this month filed suit against the UIL, saying that the rule is nonsensical and that Beggs should be allowed to compete against boys.

“The NCAA has shown what should be done,” Baudhuin said. “The NCAA’s policy is that if you are transitioning from woman to man, once you take those injections, you close the door on competing against women and can compete against men. I think that is eminently fair.”

Similarly to the NCAA rule, which was enacted in 2011, the International Olympic Committee last year said that transgender athletes who are transitioning from female to male could compete in men’s events without restrictions.

The UIL is wrong about this. Mack Beggs and the girls he has to compete against are not being well served by the birth certificate requirement. Mack Beggs is a boy. He was not born one, but he is one now. Not recognizing that and not accommodating that serves no one well. It’s way past time the UIL understood that.

UT will not push UIL on transgender athletes

Unfortunate.

Despite objections from LGBT advocates, UIL’s longstanding informal policy is set to become official August 1 — when it takes effect as an amendment to the league’s constitution.

The amendment, initially approved by UIL’s Legislative Council last year, wasoverwhelmingly ratified by representatives from member districts in February.

However, LGBT advocates hoped officials at the University of Texas at Austin, which oversees UIL, would veto the amendment since it appears to conflict with the school’s policy against discrimination based on gender identity.

UT-Austin officials confirmed they were reviewing the proposed UIL amendment in April, but university spokesman J.B. Bird indicated this month they have no plans to halt its implementation because underlying legal questions about accommodations for trans students remain unsettled.

Bird noted that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently filed suit against the Obama administration over federal guidance saying public schools must allow trans students to use restrooms and other facilities “consistent with their gender identity.”

“I think that’s definitely causing the university to look very carefully at what’s happening around us … since we’re a state agency, and we have the state pursuing these actions ” Bird said.

Paul Castillo, a Dallas-based staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said that by allowing the UIL amendment to take effect, the university is violating Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs.

The U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly said Title IX protects trans students.

“They are violating Title IX by sitting on their hands and waiting for litigation to play itself out,” Castillo said of UT. “They’re putting their own funds at risk, but beyond that, as a university system, they should take a stand.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. All that is needed here is for UT, and by extension the UIL, the follow the guidelines of the NCAA and International Olympic Committee, and thus not violate Title IX. Clearly, we are going to have to do this the hard way.

UIL punts again on transgender athletes

I say again, please reconsider this.

The debate over the University Interscholastic League’s policy for transgender athletes continues after the organization’s legislative council took no action during Tuesday’s meeting in Round Rock.

The UIL rule stating a student’s gender is identified by his or her birth certificate is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1 after district superintendents and athletic directors voted 409-25 in favor in February, but LGBT advocates believe the rule violates Title IX and the UIL Constitution.

The UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin and abides by its constitution, which prohibits gender identity discrimination.

LGBT advocates are lobbying to allow students to participate in sports under whichever gender they identify with and delay implementation of the new policy. The UIL opted to table the debate for a later date considering pending litigation.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given the current climate of potty hysteria, I don’t expect the UIL to reconsider. I almost can’t blame them, however un-courageous they’re being. This one will be resolved in the courts, sometime after the policy becomes official in August. It’s just where we are these days.

More on the UIL ban of transgender athletes

From ThinkProgress:

Transgender rights in Texas took another step backward last month, when public school superintendents voted 586-32 in favor of a rule that requires schools to use birth certificates to determine the gender of student-athletes.

This law is seen not only as “an attempt to handicap transgender student-athletes’ eligibility,” but it’s also believed to be a clear violation of Title IX.

“The Department of Education has stated that Title IX covers trans students and prohibits discrimination based on gender. Not only is [this policy] not in line with the law, but it also runs counter to the recommended policies by the National Center for Lesbian Rights,” Neena Chaudhry, the Senior Counsel and Director of Equal Opportunities in Athletics at the National Women’s Law Center, told ThinkProgress. “The recommendation is that children will be able to play on a team consistent with gender identity.”

With this ruling, Texas has become one of the least-inclusive states for transgender athletes.

Using students’ birth certificates, rather than their gender identities, to place them on a team has been an informal policy in Texas for some time. But in October, the University Interscholastic League — the governing body of Texas high-school sports — decided to send the policy to the superintendents for a vote. The results of that vote, which took place in January, were released by the Texas Observer last week. It will be officially enacted on August 1.

[…]

In 2014, the Department of Education (DOE) clarified that Title IX nondiscrimination protections did extend to transgender student-athletes. Christina Kahrl of ESPNreports that Texas is budget to receive $3.2 billion from the DOE in 2016 and 2017; that money could be lost if they are found in violation of Title IX. ThinkProgress reached out to the DOE for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.

“The goal of Title IX is to have an environment free of discrimination, so schools need to remember that and make sure they’re not discriminating against any of their students,” Chaudhry said.

See here and here for the background. That’s a lot of money potentially at stake here. One wonders if the school districts that voted to adopt this policy were briefed on that. (One also wonders what HISD thinks of this change, but so far there has been no local reporting on this that I know of.) Since this new policy won’t be formally adopted until August, it’s hard to say how long it might take for the Justice Department to act. It’s certainly not out of the question that the matter could be unresolved as of November, in which case the election may change things. I doubt President Trump’s Department of Education would care to enforce this. Be that as it may, that’s a lot of money at risk, for a change that did not need to be made. TransAthlete has more.

School districts vote to approve new UIL policy restricting transgender athletes

Unfortunate.

Despite strong opposition from LGBT advocates, representatives from Texas school districts have overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal aimed at barring transgender boys and girls from participating in athletics alongside their cisgender peers.

District superintendents and athletic directors voted 409-25 in favor of using birth certificates to determine student athletes’ gender, according to results obtained by the Observer through a request under the Texas Public Information Act.

The legislative council of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the governing body for Texas high school sports, recommended the amendment in October, and district representatives’ ballots were due this month. According to UIL, if the amendment is approved by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, it would take effect in August.

“Because of the very detailed process UIL goes through, it’s usually a pretty clear-cut decision by the time it gets to the commissioner,” said Debbie Ratcliffe, director of media relations for the Texas Education Agency.

LGBT advocates say the amendment runs afoul of the UIL Constitution and Title IXof the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972.

The UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin, and its constitution prohibits the legislative council or member districts from passing amendments that conflict with UT policy, which bans discrimination based on gender identity.

Both the council and the districts “had a duty to reject the amendment,” said Paul Castillo, a Dallas staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

Meanwhile, the federal Department of Education has said Title IX’s prohibition against sex-based discrimination applies to trans students, meaning the amendment could expose districts to legal liability, a federal investigation and loss of funds.

“These discriminatory athletic policies, they stigmatize transgender students by singling them out,” Castillo said. “Transgender students already face high rates of physical and verbal harassment at schools.”

See here for the background. It’s just a matter of time before a lawsuit gets filed over this, and I don’t know what the response will be if and when Title IX funds get threatened. I just hope it doesn’t get too messy or expensive when the trouble starts and this thing needs to get fixed. The Trib has more.

Please rethink this, UIL

Bad idea.

The governing body for Texas high school sports decided Monday to ask superintendents to determine whether to formalize a policy that uses student-athletes’ birth certificates to determine their gender.

Such a policy already is informally used by the body, the University Interscholastic League, or UIL, whose 32-member legislative council on Monday passed on an opportunity to vote on the proposed rule. Instead, the council decided to send it to the superintendents of member districts — with a recommendation that they approve it.

Critics say the policy effectively bars transgender students from playing sports.

[…]

The UIL’s “Non-Discrimination Policy” already bans member schools from denying students a chance to play on sports teams because of their disability, race, color, gender, religion or national origin.

The proposed addition to that policy says: “Gender shall be determined based on a student’s birth certificate. In cases where a student’s birth certificate is unavailable, other similar government documents used for the purpose of identification may be submitted.”

If approved by a majority of superintendents — and the state education commissioner — it would take effect Aug. 1, 2016.

[…]

If approved, the rule would go against a national trend of recent years. More than a dozen states have adopted policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity.

The District of Columbia and 15 states, including Florida, have adopted such policies as a way to encourage participation in sports, said Asaf Orr, staff attorney for the Transgender Youth Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. He noted that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has adopted a similar policy.

The birth certificate rule Texas officials are considering “absolutely bars trans kids from playing sports,” Orr said.

Changing the gender on a birth certificate is not realistic for many kids because it requires having sex reassignment surgery, Orr said.

Orr said the concern that transgender girls will be far better players than those who were born female has not panned out in states that have adopted policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate based on gender identity.

“We are not getting these hulking guys claiming to be girls dominating sports,” Orr said. “If we do, it’s because they’re superstar athletes; It’s not because they’re transgender.”

This feels to me like a policy born of ignorance and fear of backlash. I guess I can’t blame them for the fear, given the horror of the anti-HERO campaign in Houston and its shameful insistence of turning transgender folk into boogeymen, but it’s still wrong. What is the actual policy rationale for this? We have the example of the NCAA and 16 other high school sports authorities to follow. What problem does the UIL think Texas might face that these organizations and the athletes they represent have not faced or would not face? I don’t think the UIL can answer these questions, but it would be nice to at least hear them try. In the meantime, I hope they reconsider, and if they don’t, I hope HISD and other more enlightened districts opt out of that provision. If “non-discrimination” is to mean something, it has to have meaning for everyone.

Cheerleading is now a sport in Texas

This is a real thing.

Cheerleading will finally get its tryout from the University Interscholastic League.

After a hearty debate and a failed first vote, the UIL Legislative Council approved a one-year pilot program to hold a league-sanctioned cheerleading competition for the 2015-16 school year.

Crowning state champions in each of the state’s six classifications, the “Game Day Cheer” competition will be the first cheerleading event in the league’s history.

“As big as cheerleading is in Texas, I feel like a lot of people will gravitate to this,” Highland Park cheerleading coach Jason McMahan said. “Not only because it’s new, but also because it gives them an opportunity to showcase their athletes and their abilities vs. just their home crowd seeing them on the sidelines.”

[…]

Passage of the proposal wasn’t easy.

After squeaking through the UIL’s Standing Committee on Policy on Tuesday, the concept faced similar skepticism and criticism from many on the full council on Wednesday.

Normally, the league moves at a glacial level, with a proposal waiting six months between approval from a subcommittee to a final vote. The cheerleading concept, however, was fast-tracked — with league staff asking for its approval less than a day after moving out of committee, in an attempt to get the event launched for the upcoming school year.

Many of the 32-member council didn’t like the speed of that process, with only seven members — including Duncanville ISD Superintendent Alfred Ray and Katy ISD’s Alton Frailey — initially voting in favor of the pilot program.

“The main reason that I can support this is that we can keep our kids involved and we can keep them safe,” said Frailey, the former DeSoto superintendent.

Richardson ISD Superintendent Kay Waggoner originally voted against the proposal, concerned with the readiness of districts to pay for additional expenses and provide oversight to another activity.

Only when implementation of the pilot was pushed back to the 2015-16 school year did the program gain approval.

“I think the folks around this table were concerned on how it would affect their budget on such short notice, and how it might affect their student body because of other activities that they’ve signed up for,” Breithaupt said. “To give more detail as we move forward, so that they can share it with people they represent, I think that’s fair.”

An earlier story has some of the background on this.

“It’s a controversial topic — it just is,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said. “I’m just interested in doing what’s best for an activity that’s kind of been ignored, to be honest with you. Give them a state championship for all the things that they do.”

Game Day Cheer would differ from a competitive cheerleading event, Breithaupt said. The elements of the UIL contest would mimick what cheerleaders do during a pep rally or on the sidelines, without the high-flying tosses and difficult gymnastics found in competitive cheer.

In a 2012-13 National Federation of State High School Associations survey, 32 states held girls’ “competitive spirit squad” competitions, with 116,508 students participating nationwide, the ninth-most popular girls’ athletic activity.

[…]

Bringing cheerleading under the umbrella of the UIL has gained momentum over the last 18 months. In a letter to the UIL in January 2012, the Texas Medical Association asked the league for oversight of cheerleading, saying it would “be a bold move to ensure we have a state system focused on injury prevention under consistent, evidence-based safety guidelines.” As a result, the league’s medical advisory committee recommended in April 2013 that cheerleading be included in the list of activities that abide by the UIL’s safety and health regulations.

A former football coach and athletic director, Breithaupt said his opinion evolved from that point.

“If we are going to make them comply with all the other standards, to me it just makes sense,” Breithaupt said. “It’d be like, for example, if we said, ‘OK, we don’t sanction lacrosse, but we are going to require you to follow all of our rules.’”

You may be shaking your head about this, but the UIL is just following the official recommendation of the American Medical Association.

The American Medical Association adopted a policy declaring cheerleading a sport at its annual meetings Monday, weighing in on a long-lasting debate with a solid reason in mind: giving cheerleading “sport” status at high schools across the country would make it safer by increasing training and safety measures to protect its participants.

Cheerleading, according to the AMA and other independent researchers, is the leader in catastrophic injuries in female athletes, and considering it a sport would help increase training and awareness among coaches, parents, and cheerleaders themselves, the AMA said.

“These girls are flipping 10, 20 feet in the air,” Dr. Samantha Rosman said at the meeting, according to the Associated Press. “We need to stand up for what is right for our patients and demand they get the same protection as their football colleagues.”

[…]

The American Academy of Pediatrics designated cheerleading a sport two years ago, and 35 states and Washington D.C. have declared it a sport at the high school level. The AMA policy means that it will push remaining states and sports bodies to adopt the designation.

You can now add Texas to the list of adopters. As that article above noted, concussions are a big issue in cheerleading, and unlike in other sports, the risk is even higher in practice than at games. One of the effects of the UIL declaring it a sport is that practices can now be regulated in the same way as other sports. Hopefully, that will help reduce the injury risk.

UIL moves to limit high school football practice time

They are doing it to limit the risk of concussion.

Established in 2001, the University Interscholastic League’s Medical Advisory Committee has done its best to be proactive and stay ahead on issues.

That’s been the case in requiring schools to have automated external defibrillators, dealing with concussions and establishing protocols.

On Sunday, the committee did just that, unanimously recommending a resolution to the UIL legislative council to limit in-season, full-contact practice. Each athlete would be limited to 90 minutes per week of game-speed tackling and blocking to the ground during the regular season and playoffs.

Every recommendation from the advisory committee has been approved by the executive council.

[…]

D.W. Rutledge, the executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association and a committee member, said there could be pushback from coaches but little resistance once they understand the wording on the rule.

“I think with the vast majority of coaches, that fits into their practice schedules without them having to make any adjustments at all,” said Rutledge, who led Converse Judson to four state championships.

Not clear to me how much difference this will make if coaches are generally adhering to this schedule already, but it’s still a step in the right direction. State Rep. Eddie Lucio III has filed HB887 that would do basically the same thing; it was passed unanimously out of the Public Education committee on April 9 and is awaiting a slot on the House calendar. We sure have come a long way from the Bear Bryant days, haven’t we?

NCAA officially nixes high school programming on the Longhorn Network

So much for that.

The NCAA made official Thursday what most suspected would happen: It won’t allow programming involving high school athletics on university- or conference-affiliated television networks.

That means the new Longhorn Network’s plans to carry about 18 high school football games on Thursdays and Saturdays have been scuttled.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said Thursday that the NCAA staff had made the recommendation and it was approved by the governing body’s board of directors. An NCAA spokesman said that an Aug. 22 summit in Indianapolis to discuss the issue will go on as scheduled, with the topic now devoted to how to keep the new university or conference networks operating within NCAA rules.

Earlier, the Big XII had voluntarily put the kibosh on high school sports for at least a year. All of this may well be too little, too late.

Texas A&M intends to bolt the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, multiple insiders said Friday, in abruptly ending its nearly century-old league affiliation with rival Texas, and 15-year union with the Big 12, which includes longtime in-state rivals Baylor and Texas Tech. A&M has called for a telephonic regents meeting for 3 p.m. Monday to discuss “conference alignment.”

Agenda item 15 reads in part, “Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University’s Athletic Conference Alignment.” An A&M official said Friday night that the Aggies hope to begin play in the SEC in 2012, but it’s too early in the complex process to determine if that will happen.

A&M pushed up its regularly scheduled regents meeting from Aug. 22 apparently to stay in front of a hastily called Tuesday hearing by the Texas House Committee on Higher Education on potential league realignment. SEC school leaders also intend to meet Sunday to essentially rubber stamp A&M’s admittance, according to a Big 12 school official.

Earlier Friday, an A&M official said Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe had told A&M president R. Bowen Loftin that the Big 12 would survive without the Aggies and that UT holds the key to the long-term future of the Big 12. The A&M official added that the Big 12 believes Houston would be a viable candidate to replace the Aggies.

The Big XII says it ain’t happening, but you know how that goes. Mentioning UH in this context gets the wish machine working. Hey, you never know, maybe this year is finally the year for them. In the meantime, I’ll just watch and see if there are more dominoes to fall.

No high school games on the Longhorn Network

For now, anyway.

The Big 12’s athletic directors unanimously agreed to a moratorium on high school content delivered on institutional or conference media platforms for a minimum of one year, the league announced in a release Monday. League athletic directors converged in Dallas for a meeting specifically designed to address questions other schools had about the Longhorn Network (LHN), the 24-hour Texas-themed cable channel set to be launched by ESPN on Aug. 26.

[…]

According to the release, no distribution of high school content will be allowed even after the one-year moratorium unless the NCAA rules it is acceptable. UT is sending representatives to an NCAA summit on the issue Aug. 22, but it might take months for the NCAA to rule on the subject.

“The ADs recognize that this issue is complex and involves a detailed analysis of the recruiting model in many areas, including existing NCAA legislation related to the publicity of prospective student-athletes and the rapidly evolving world of technology,” the Big 12’s statement read. “This process will take an extended period of analysis.”

As with many other issues we’ve seen in the news these days, this doesn’t actually resolve anything. It just pushes the day of reckoning down the road, with the possibility that some external entity will render the need to take action moot. Hey, why should the Big XII be any different? See this ESPN story for more.

It’s “The Longhorn Network” for a reason

Branding, y’all. It’s called branding. And I don’t mean what they do to cattle. Though I suppose that is sort of what’s happening here, now that I think about it.

Opponents’ views of Texas’ new cable network venture with ESPN have quickly escalated from concern to apprehension to resentment. Texas A&M’s board of regents will be discussing the Longhorn Network in executive session Thursday. Unconfirmed rumors suggested A&M and Oklahoma were eyeing the Southeastern Conference.

Texas officials tried to reassure the Big 12 and its conference rivals about the 24/7 cable network this week. UT participated in conference calls with conference athletic directors Monday and presidents Wednesday to allay fears about the network’s scope.

Commissioner Dan Beebe announced a temporary compromise Wednesday. Telecasts of high school football games on the Longhorn Network are now on hold, pending decisions by the NCAA and the Big 12 about how to handle school and conference networks. The Big 12 also delayed the possibility of a conference game on the Longhorn Network, announced earlier this month as part of a side deal with Fox.

“It’s not going to happen until and unless the conference can make it happen with benefit to all and detriment to none,” Beebe said.

[…]

Anxiety skyrocketed in early June after Austin’s 104.9 FM interviewed Dave Brown, the Longhorn Network’s vice president for programming and acquisitions. His responses seemed to confirm the worst fears that the Longhorn Network would zoom from zero to overkill with 18 high school games on Thursdays and Saturdays. Brown specifically mentioned star Aledo running back Johnathan Gray, who has orally committed to Texas but not signed a letter of intent.

“I know people are going to want to see Johnathan Gray. I can’t wait to see Johnathan Gray,” Brown told the station. “Feedback we got from our audience is they just want to see Johnathan Gray run — whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Johnathan Gray.”

I don’t know about those “unconfirmed rumors” regarding A&M, OU, and the SEC, but A&M President Loftin Bowin was quite clear about their school’s unhappiness with this.

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin used the term “uncertainty” time and again Thursday in describing the state of the league, thanks to the start of the ESPN-owned Longhorn Network in Austin next month.

“The (recent) announcement by ESPN that the Longhorn Network might carry a conference (football) game in addition to a nonconference game was troubling, and then following right after that was ESPN’s announcement regarding high school games would be televised as well,” Loftin said. “Both of those we believe provide a great deal of uncertainty right now for us and the conference.”

[…]

Loftin said the LHN has no business showing Big 12 football games, and especially high school games that might target top recruits.

“If (they show) one conference game, then maybe we have two or three,” Loftin said. “High school games are very problematic. … If we have an unequal playing field for various schools (concerning recruiting), we think that is a problem. That creates uncertainty.”

Meanwhile ESPN and A&M athletic director Bill Byrne chimed in on the suddenly touchy subject Thursday.

“We recognize more discussions need to take place to properly address the questions raised by the conference,” ESPN said in a statement. “This is uncharted territory for all involved, so it’s logical for everyone to proceed carefully.”

What I don’t understand is why this is “suddenly” a touchy subject. The UIL has had its eyes on the Longhorn Network from the beginning. Was nobody else thinking about the implications of this at that time? Good luck cramming that genie back into the lamp now, that’s all I can say.

Private schools in the UIL

A bill by Sen. Dan Patrick that would allow private schools to compete in the University Interscholastic League (UIL) passed the Senate last week.

Texas is just one of three states in the country — California and Connecticut being the others — that have separate athletic championships for public and private schools.

[…]

For years, the proposal has been met with stern opposition by the Texas High School Coaches Association and the UIL, the governing body of extra-curricular programs for 1,300 schools in the state. As a result, Patrick tried to appease his political and coaching opponents by removing football and basketball from the bill.

Despite the alteration, UIL athletic director Mark Cousins, who was officially named to the position April 20, has not changed his stance about the inclusion of members from the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, which has about 250 schools.

“I think you’ll find our member schools support (private school participation) rules as they are,” Cousins said.

The UIL amended its rules in 2003, granting Dallas Jesuit and Strake Jesuit membership after the schools were forced to sponsor independent athletic programs once the Texas Christian Interscholastic League folded in 2000.

The bill is SB1214. My first thought was that it would likely pass the House if it can make it onto the calendar – no guarantee at this late date – but the vote for and against it was bipartisan, so who knows. I don’t feel strongly about this bill one way or another. If the two Jesuit schools above could be absorbed into the UIL without the world coming to an end, I doubt anything horrible will happen if this passes. For sure, as long as football and basketball are excluded it’s probably the case that most people won’t notice the change. But I didn’t go to high school here, so maybe I’m all wrong about this. What do you think?

Hard times for high school athletics

High school football may be a big deal in Texas, but high school sports are not immune to budget cuts.

With school districts across the state facing major budget cuts, members of the Texas High School Athletic Directors Association met for their annual conference with a focus on finding ways to limit expenses.

The attending athletic directors said it was nice to see they weren’t alone in their budgetary struggles.

“It’s not that misery loves company by any means,” Houston ISD athletic director Marmion Dambrino said. “But it is good to know and listen to ideas of how others are dealing with these budget issues. It’s all about how creative we can become with what it is that we are doing.”

[…]

UIL executive director Dr. Charles Breithaupt spoke on Tuesday about the attention athletics receive during budget cuts because of the publicity the programs receive. School boards also debate the stipends coaches receive when expenses have to be cut.

“I want to give them the message of hope,” Breithaupt said. “Why things are bleak financially across the state and across the national, parents and kids still want to participation in athletic programs. Really, athletics are the biggest bang for your buck that a school district can get. Research shows that students who participate in athletics attend school more regularly, focus in the classroom and have fewer discipline referrals.

“Knowing all of that, what better program can you have than that at a school?”

I appreciate his passion for the job, but I’m sure you could say the same about a school’s music department, and we know what will happen with them. You know that my preference is for there to be no cuts, but that’s not a possibility. Given that, athletics will have to shoulder their fair share of the burden. I wish the ADs luck in figuring out how to make the most they can from less.

Steroid testing can never fail, it can only be failed

It’s definition of insanity time.

Don Hooton’s anti-steroid message aimed at young athletes has never been more in demand.

The foundation he started six years ago in the wake of his teenage son’s suicide, attributed to steroid use, has grown to a full-time staff of five. They speak at high schools and colleges across the U.S. and Canada. Annual donations from Major League Baseball and the National Football League to the Taylor Hooton Foundation are scheduled into the middle of the decade.

At the same time, the random steroid testing program for University Interscholastic League athletes in Texas is shrinking. The Legislature initially funded the effort in 2007 with an annual budget of $3 million, but the allotment for the current school year is $750,000 – after a cut to $1 million a year earlier. A total of 4,560 athletes are scheduled to be tested in 2010-11, compared with 35,077 in 2008-09.

While the economic downturn played a role in the reductions, Hooton said he believes state politicians don’t fear steroid use as much as they did when the bill was enacted. That, he said, is because the 51,635 tests done over the last 2 ½ years have resulted in 21 positive tests, two unresolved and 139 not passing for procedure violations, such as unexcused absences. Last spring, all 3,308 tests were clean. Two years ago, Gov. Rick Perry said the results to date indicated the funding might have been excessive.

Hooton said the results of the testing, done for the UIL by Drug Free Sport of Kansas City, Mo., don’t accurately measure steroid use among the state’s high school athletes.

“Those people who read the results as proof we never had a steroid problem in the first place, we just gave them all the ammunition in the world,” said Hooton, who runs the foundation out of his McKinney home. “We’re going to budget this down to defeating the purpose of the program.”

So we’ve spent millions of dollars testing thousands of high school athletes for steroids, and caught only a handful of actual steroid users. And the recommended solution is apparently to spend millions more doing more testing. For what purpose, I couldn’t say.

Delaware is one of a handful of states that considered starting steroid testing but declined. Kevin Charles, executive director of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the state passed in part because of concern about cheating.

“The cost didn’t seem to make the bang worth the buck because testing was so easily beaten,” Charles said. “We had a real good presentation by a medical intern on how easily one can beat drug testing.”

And, Hooton said, his contacts in the federal Drug Enforcement Administration say new steroids coming from China can’t yet be detected by the U.S. testing.

In good budget times, this would be at best a questionable exercise. In the face of a $25 billion budget hole, it’s completely inexcusable, even if the amount spent is tiny. Declare success and quit while we’re ahead, I say.

UIL on UT TV

When the UT TV network was created, I wondered just how the heck one school could fill out its programming schedule. Turns out there’s a lot of potential content available thanks to UT’s historic ties to high school athletics.

“We’re the only one left,” [Dr. Charles Breithaupt, executive director of the University Interscholastic League] said of the UIL, which was founded in 1909 and, under state law, is part of UT-Austin.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association became independent of the University of North Carolina.

Through the UIL, Texas typically has more students competing in athletics than any other state. According to figures compiled by the National Federation of State High School Associations, in the 2009-10 school year Texas had 780,000 boys and girls competing in high school athletics while California had 771,000. No other state had as many as 400,000 participants.

The UIL also runs academic and music competitions for its member schools.

Breithaupt said the UIL has a contract with Fox Sports to televise UIL football, basketball and baseball championships, but the deal is only for the championship games in those sports. He said playoff games could be available to the Longhorn network as well as regular-season games. The UIL has a long-standing ban on televising football games on Friday night, out of concerns that the telecasts could hurt local ticket sales. However, that leaves Thursday and Saturday games available for TV, and Breithaupt said more schools will probably warm to the idea of playing on those nights if it means television exposure.

I did not know that about the UIL. Can’t say I’m a big fan of high school sports, but there are plenty of ’em out there, so this idea sure makes sense.

Still steroid-free

No juicing here.

The University Interscholastic League on Thursday released results of [steroids tests of high school athletes] for the spring semester of the 2009-2010 school year. Of the 3,308 boys and girls tested last semester, all of the student athletes were clean.

About 50,000 tests since February 2008 have found only about 20 confirmed cases of steroid use.

The program has been shrinking since lawmakers created it in 2007 with a $3 million annual budget. In May 2009, when the small number of positive tests caused some to question whether testing should be stopped, state lawmakers cut the program to $1 million annually.

It’s now down to $750K. Which ought to be the first thing erased from the budget next biennium, since clearly we’re spending all that money on a non-problem. That’s obvious to most people, but sadly not to deficit poseur David Dewhurst. If he gets his way again and saves it for another session, be sure to ask yourself what it was that Dewhurst preferred to cut instead of this.

UPDATE: Grits suggests redirecting the money instead. I’m okay with his idea.

Postseason expansion: Not just for the NCAA

Texas high schools may be getting into the act, too.

There is growing support to create a Conference 6A that would send even more Texas high school football teams to the playoffs, the head of the University Interscholastic League said Monday.

UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said “it’s more likely now than ever” that about 1,200 high schools would be realigned into six classes of roughly equal size in a shake-up geared at putting more teams in the postseason. Under the plan, four schools from every district of every size would make the playoffs.

Currently, only the two largest classifications — 5A and 4A — advance four teams from each district. Critics say it has created watered-down system where schools that finish 2-8 can sometimes advance in weak districts.

Breithaupt said schools have consistently indicated on surveys that more playoff teams are better.

He wondered if the preference was a product of the everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality that has become common in youth sports leagues.

“You look at the generation we’re raising up … you say those kids are used to getting more,” Breithaupt said. “They’re used to being in the playoffs. They’re used to an extra game and a trophy and being crowned. So maybe it’s just us fitting in with societal needs.”

Call me crazy, but I don’t think this has anything to do with the kids. There’s got to be a buck to be made here, and if there is, I daresay that will override any other concern.

Who’s your referee?

I don’t follow high school sports at all, but this Chron story about a battle between the University Interscholastic League (UIL) and the Texas Association of Sports Officials (TASO), about who has control over the officials at high school athletic events, was fascinating to me. I don’t have any points to make about the story, which I recommend you read, but I am curious about something. I find that it’s rare for a big change like this to take place without some kind of precipitating event, but the story doesn’t go into that. So does anyone who does follow high school sports know, was this something that was a long time coming and the stars finally lined up, was it the result of some controversy or scandal (I doubt that, as surely that would have been mentioned in the article), or was it really about money, as one of the TASO officials claims? Leave a comment and let me know.