| Samantha Schmidt |
ZACHARY Greenwald’s Min-nesota high school dance team will be competing in a conference championship next weekend. The varsity dancers will line up on a basketball court and perform the jazz routine they have been practicing all season, with its rainstorm-themed choreography.
But Zachary will be sitting on the sidelines, as a team manager, reminding the girls to keep their toes pointed and legs straight.
While the 16-year-old high school junior has wanted to compete alongside his friends on the dance team since the seventh grade, the Minnesota State High School League does not allow him to – because he’s not a girl.
“I was excluded for something I felt I couldn’t change,” Zachary said. “It was really upsetting.”
Zachary is one of two Minnesota high school boys who are suing the league over the rule, calling it unconstitutional and discriminatory.
Lawyers for Zachary and Dmitri Moua, who attends Roseville Area High School, filed a lawsuit in July accusing the Minnesota State High School League of violating the boys’ rights under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972.
A federal judge rejected the request, but the boys’ legal team appealed the ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the eighth Circuit and expect that court to issue a ruling within the next month, said Caleb Trotter, a lawyer representing the boys who is with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based law firm that has worked on two similar cases.
The competitive dance team season ends mid-February, but a ruling in the boys’ favor would allow them to try out for the squad next year.
Of 16 states that offer competitive dance as a high school sport, Minnesota is the only state that still prohibits boys from participating, Trotter said.
The state’s rules, Trotter argues, are “based on outmoded stereotypes and concepts for what boys and girls like to do”.
But the Minnesota state high school league argued in court briefings last month that excluding males from dance teams is necessary to redress past discrimination against girls, who have been historically underrepresented in high school sports.
The league’s lawyers say the lawsuit challenges a state statute that allows high school athletic teams to restrict membership “to participants of one sex whose overall athletic opportunities have previously been limited”.
Moreover, Title IX allows single-sex athletics “where selection for such teams is based upon competitive skill or the activity involved is a contact sport”.
Lawyers for the two boys argue that the dance team is not a contact sport and that team selection is based on artistic performance ability, not on “size, speed or strength”.
Dmitri, who has been dancing for about two years, agrees, saying he doesn’t feel that he has a leg up over any girl because he’s male. In fact, the girls do many moves that he cannot execute yet.
“I just think it’s solely based off your motivation and your ability to practice hard and push yourself and have that mentality of being better,” Dmitri said.
But the state high school league pushed back against the idea that team selection isn’t influenced by “size, speed or strength”.
“Simply because Dance Team is not a ‘contact sport’ does not mean that participation from boys will not upset the competitive balance,” Kevin Beck, a lawyer for the Minnesota State High School League, wrote in a court brief. – Text and Photo by The Washington Post